By: Jack Rigert, Director of John Paul II Renewal Center
Both of my Grandfathers, one Swiss and one Danish, as well as my Dad and Mom were Professional Chefs, and as a young man, I followed in their footsteps. For me, designing, building and operating Restaurants was in my blood, and I was pretty good at it. One of my favorites was an Italian Restaurant that my partner and I built in the mid 90’s, Tribella Grill. The first day we put up a “Now Hiring” sign Michelle came in and applied to be a waitress. She was only 16, too young I thought for a white-tablecloth restaurant. But she was witty and charming beyond her years and had such a beautiful smile that I took a chance and hired her. She did a great job from day one, and the customers loved her!
One day, Michelle told me the horrific story of finding her father hanging from a rafter in their garage, an apparent suicide, when she was six years old. The memory of that day haunted her, and she felt abandoned by him. From that day on, I became somewhat protective of her and over time it became my job to meet with any young man who was interested in dating her, a job that I took seriously. When she was 19, she brought Chad, who was a few years older, in to meet me. While I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, there was something about him that I didn’t like. In spite of my warnings they began dating and soon Michelle said that she really cared about him and might be falling in love. The sexual advice that she received from her friends was that if she was falling in love why wait? Michelle wasn’t so sure. She had gotten pregnant at 17 and was abandoned again, this time by her daughter’s father. One day she asked me “How do I know if Chad really loves me? I think that he does and I think that I love him too, but is there a way to be sure?” I told her there was and we agreed that the three of us should meet together the following week to discuss it.
The next week came and after some light-hearted conversation, I asked Chad and Michelle to move apart about ten feet and then turn to face one another. “So Chad”, I said, “you told Michelle that you loved her and she thinks that she is falling in love with you. You know that she’s been hurt on a number of occasions in the past, and instead of finding love she ended up being used. The pain of these experiences moved her to ask me ‘how do I know if it is really love?’ So, Chad and Michelle are you ready to find out?” (I give Chad credit…he said “sure” like he meant it!)
I explained, “There are four aspects of love according to Saint John Paul ll …the first aspect is that mysterious force of attraction that is so powerful that it moved you outside of yourselves and almost mystically moved you toward one another. John Paul ll called this powerful initial attraction (recognizing the good of another person; seeing their outer beauty and sensing their inner beauty) as the first of four aspects of love. But at this stage it is only the “raw material” for love and we have a long way to move from this stage to “Authentic Love”. John Paul ll went on to say that in some instances once you have experienced this powerful attraction to another person, it may lead to the second aspect of love, “love as desire”. In this stage, attracted to Michelle’s inner and outer goodness and beauty, you want that “good” for yourself and desire union with the beloved. Is this love? Not yet…though it is all a part of the beautiful plan for authentic love it is still the “raw material” for love. It is here that so many young people sabotage their own chance to find and experience Authentic Love. They do this by sexualizing this God-given desire for the beauty and goodness in another person, “the raw material for love”, before it has had a chance to mature into authentic love, the love we all desire. Instead of finding the beauty of love (and JPll would say that “young people love the beauty of love!”) they settle instead on “using one another” and never find the banquet that God has planned for each and every one of us.
How does one find the banquet and the beauty of authentic love? By moving toward the third and fourth aspects of love, which are respectively “Love as Goodwill”, to move from wanting a good for yourself, to willing (or desiring) the good of another for their own sake, willing their good even before your own. And finally “Spousal Love” where two persons become reciprocal self-gifts to one another while holding nothing back…a radical gift of self….given freely, totally, faithfully and fruitfully (wedding vows). The way you do this is by ‘Crossing the Bridge’. Look down and imagine a heavy wooden beam like a bridge at your feet that will move you beyond the raw material of love to Michelle on the other side. The wooden bridge is called Chastity and in order to find what you are looking for you must cross it. And since you and Michelle are not married it includes abstinence (I could see Chad get a little tense here). Picture this, up until now both you and Michelle were taking “selfies”, reflecting “your” own wants, desires and needs on the other person. Oh at times it felt like love, but until you flip the “selfie” from its primary focus on yourself to reflecting what is best for the “other” your love has not matured. How you do this is by ‘Crossing the Bridge’ of Chastity. It won’t always be easy for the simple reason that love is not always easy. In fact Chastity only makes sense within the context of authentic love. It is the virtue that frees us from being used or of using others, thus freeing us to be capable of Authentic Love. You see the opposite of love is not hate, the opposite of love is lust, using a person for your own selfish gratification. The culture we live in is desperate for love, but it is so confused to what “Love is…!?” that it rarely finds it and this confusion is leaving broken hearts and broken families in its wake. The good news is that Michelle sees this unhappiness all around her and is pushing back. She hears the “echo” in her heart telling her that there must be “something more”!
I looked up at Chad and said “90 days…I want you and Michelle to practice Chastity for 90 days and then we meet here again. At that point your relationship together will have either moved toward authentic love, fallen apart (for it was never love) or fallen back into the ‘cycle of use’. Chad said, “Jack, to tell you the truth I don’t think I’m capable of this”. I smiled and said “no, I know you’re not, neither am I. But see the wooden beam, it is being held up by a sturdy vertical beam right at its center that goes deep into the foundation of the earth and rises above the bridge pointing to the heavens. Hanging in the center is Jesus Christ and if you and Michele meet in the center, and unite with Him, then you will find the love that you are looking for…and His grace will sustain you. When you feel like giving in, and you will, remember why—or more specifically, for whom—you are waiting. What is worth more: a few moments of pleasure or becoming a warrior, a real man and giving Michelle the lifelong joy of knowing that you are a man that is committed to loving her for herself forever! This is the kind of love that endures and makes you happy and it’s not easy, but it’s beautiful. “Chastity is a difficult, long-term matter,” Pope John Paul ll said. “One must wait patiently for it to bear fruit, for the happiness of loving-kindness which it must bring. But at the same time chastity is the sure way to happiness.” Did you catch that? Chastity is the sure way to happiness. Love can be demanding at times, but it is precisely because of that challenge that true love takes on such rare beauty.
If you think that moving from step 1 to step 4 takes work and sacrifice…bingo, you’re right! It will also take prayer, perseverance and patience among others. Authentic love is worth it!! In fact authentic love is not only worth it, it is the whole reason that we were created! And we are not left alone in this battle for love! For this is not primarily our work but the work of the Holy Spirit within us. John Paul ll said that “young people love the beauty of love,” and that “young people know that their life has meaning to the extent that it is given away as sincere gift to others.” You see love is not about comfort and convenience. If we long to find the love we have been created for we must be willing to put others before ourselves.
As one husband said, “Winning this battle takes faith in Christ, dedication, commitment, honesty with ourselves and others, and a willingness to make sacrifices and deny our own selfish desires. But love is not afraid of those things; love is those things.”
Please watch for part three of “Love is…!?” (the outcome and more)