Dan Burke is an award-winning author, writer, and speaker on Catholic spirituality. He has written and/or edited nine books on faithful Catholic spirituality and is the Executive Director and writer for EWTN’s National Catholic Register. Dan is the president of the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, and the creator of Divine Intimacy Radio and SpiritualDirection.com.
Before the world knew Bl. Pope John Paul II, Fr. Karol Wojtyla wrote a work entitled Love and Responsibility. The text presents a unique philosophical introduction to the individual, relationships, the nature of sexuality and holy matrimony. It is the very substance of these topics that our modern world seeks to rewrite. However as we stand against the unjust HHS mandate and other attempts to further redefine sexuality and human relations, we must also remember to nurture our own relationships. In fact, the best defense of a natural relationship may be the observable charity and maturity within our own.
The prophetic young Wojtyla was inspired to write the book after spending time with a group of students that had coalesced during his time teaching at Lublin University. The group originally centered on discussing the common relational trials of youths and would spend their time serving the downtrodden. Eventually, the students became a large number of youths that would accompany Fr. Wojtyla on “hiking, skiing, camping and canoeing” excursions in the “hills of southern Poland.” As the group discussed relationships and sexuality amongst their activities, they would refer to their priest as “uncle,” because Wojtyla “took off his collar” as it “was illegal for priests to sponsor such outings under Communism.” Bl. Pope John Paul II’s love for the youth and his love for the outdoors were well known throughout his life. It is even reported “he was on a kayaking trip in 1958 when he was named an auxiliary bishop of Krakow at age thirty-eight, he was the youngest bishop in Poland’s history.”
While Bl. Pope John Paul II’s love for the youth and their journey of faith may be well known, his work Love and Responsibility does not share the same fame. The work was written quite early in his life, and is marked with the characteristic depth and challenging nature common to his works.
However, the importance of this work is once again receiving due and timely recognition. The Catholic author Dr. Edward Sri has written an excellent introduction to Fr. Wojtyla’s work entitled Men, Women and the Mystery of Love. Dr. Sri has masterfully taken the complex philosophical observations of the Blessed Holy Father and presented them in an accessible and practical guide to authentic relationships. The work tackles such topics as discerning authentic love, “the problem of pornography,” the true nature of friendships and “how to achieve greater intimacy in marriage.” Men, Women and the Mystery of Love imports a clarity and common sense approach that literally lifts the wisdom of the young Fr. Wojtyla right off the pages.
An example of this remarkable clarity can be found in Dr. Sri’s articulation of immature and mature relationship characteristics. In relationships marked by immaturity, “the person is constantly looking inward absorbed in his own feelings.” These relationships demonstrate the typical vagaries observed when individuals allow “sensual and emotional reactions” to control the relationship. In essence, a “subjective aspect of love reigns supreme” and the relationship suffers “unstable and constantly changing” emotions.
Contrary to the inwardness of immature relationships, there is a “mature love” and “is one that looks outward.” As expected, this love is “based not on [the individual’s] feelings, but on the honest truth of the other person” and the “commitment to the other person in self-giving love.” This of course is not a cold rational approach to relationships, but rather the lover can look upon the beloved without any “idealization of that person,” and offer them an authentic love formed by the true identity of the beloved. A mature outward-looking relation has a developed “serene and confident” character that ceases to look at the beloved as an object and sees them as a person. A person that the lover “actively seeks what is best for the beloved.”
One of the reasons Dr. Sri’s work aids the individual in understanding the philosophical complexities of Fr. Wojtyla’s work is his use of practical examples. He offers two examples from his own life. Two marriage couples are presented in which both of the wives are diagnosed with crippling diseases. In the first couple, the wife is diagnosed with a debilitating cancer that eventually leaves her bound to a wheelchair. The husband – unable to produce the “self-giving love” his wife needed – left his wife and his children to seek a life less difficult. It was an immature love that crumbled when the “object” of his love could not respond as he wished.
The second couple is the exact opposite. The wife contracts a “form of multiple sclerosis that quickly led to her confinement in a wheelchair.” Unfortunately her condition worsened and her husband had to bathe her, feed her and endure the emotional trauma of a wife who needed much and could give very little. Overall, “it was a true, mature love – based not on his own enjoyment, but on the gift of himself and on his commitment to what would be best for his wife, no matter what the cost.”
Dr. Edward Sri’s work stands out as a practical introduction to a fruitful philosophical discussion on relationships, love, friendship, and sexuality. It strikes a well-toned balance between the theoretical and the practical, and grants a clarity to the in depth work of Bl. Pope John Paul II.
Dr. Edward will be on EWTN’s Bookmark with Doug Keck. Bookmark airs on Sunday at 9:30am ET and then again at 11:30pm ET. If you miss these you can catch them again on Monday at 5:30am ET and then Wednesday at 5:30pm ET.
The quotations describing the early life of Bl. Pope John Paul are found in the USCCB article Pope John Paul II: A Light for the World.