Blog - Unity Behind Diversity

Searching for beauty in the dissonance

Tagged: love

My Encomium For Brother Domenic

On November 14th, 2009, I was invited to give a speech at a tribute to Brother Domenic, principal of De La Salle College “Oaklands” from 1996 to 2009. I graduated from De La Salle in 2005.

In March of 2004, sitting in English class, Mr. Hunt told us that we were all schizophrenic. We were schizophrenic for “attending a school run by a man from another century,” and putting on our uniforms, and combating this “tidal wave of junk,” and then going out and living in it. “It’s one thing to be stuck in this hurricane,” he said, “but it’s even worse to be a schizo stuck in this hurricane!”

From Mr. Hunt, being a “man from another century” is a profound compliment of the highest order. I’ve been fortunate enough to know this man from another century for the past eight years of our century — and, unlike Alessia, only four years as a student, and the other four as an alumnus who hangs around the school a bit too much. Since graduating, I’ve attended — among other things — every Christmas and Founder’s Day mass that I could. Only a direct conflict would stop me; if my exams were in the afternoon, I’d be here in the morning.

One of the main benefits of being at the school assemblies has always been Brother Domenic’s speeches. I remember him stressing what it means to be a signum fidei at the opening assembly in 2001, when I was in Grade 9. I remember a speech railing against the phrase, “that’s nice,” as a focus on mediocrity. I remember him stressing that, at De La Salle, we are not taught to be great, but to be good — not in terms of being mediocre, but in terms of being centred on Christ. The most memorable of all, however, were the words of wisdom Brother offered us during a time of great mourning, at Ian Lawson Van Toch’s Mass of the Resurrection. Brother Domenic said,

The way we measure success as human beings is terribly flawed. I am increasingly of the view personally that we have it terribly wrong. It is not the length of days or the accomplishments or the conquests, or health or the career, which makes us most human and therefore like God in whose image we are created. It is our capacity to love and be loved by others.

Success is our capacity to love and be loved by others.

And love? The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium Et Spes (“Joy and Hope”), explains love in the following way:

(24) God, Who has fatherly concern for everyone, has willed that all men should constitute one family and treat one another in a spirit of brotherhood…

For this reason, love for God and neighbour is the first and greatest commandment. Sacred Scripture, however, teaches us that the love of God cannot be separated from love of neighbour…

Indeed, the Lord Jesus, when He prayed to the Father, “that all may be one. . . as we are one” (John 17:21-22) opened up vistas closed to human reason, for He implied a certain likeness between the union of the divine Persons, and the unity of God’s sons in truth and charity. This likeness reveals that man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.

In other words, man cannot truly be successful except through a sincere gift of self.

Love is a self-giving — to love is to serve — and to be truly successful is to love and to be loved.

Brother Domenic, it’s clear by your abundant service and gift of self to the school community, and by the community of people assembled here today who love you, that you have truly been successful.

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Against the Test Drive Approach to Spousal Love

Jessica Valenti, author of The Purity Myth, wrote about why everyone should have premarital sex on Feministing yesterday.

Let’s face it – if you’re going to commit yourself to someone for (presumably) the rest of your life, it’s probably best if you know that you’re sexually compatible. I don’t think this is particularly radical thing to say; in fact, it seems quite logical to me. But somehow, if you suggest that pre-marital sex is a good and maybe even necessary thing (especially if you say those things while being a feminist) you are an evil, evil whoremaker.

Do I think that people can have perfectly wonderful satisfying relationships without having had sex before making a commitment? Sure, I’m positive that happens often. But considering what a huge role sexuality plays in our lives and relationships…well, I’d rather be super duper positive.

What a tragically narrow vision of sexuality! Sexuality is reduced to an action. It’s not just Valenti. Films become rated R: “contains sexuality.” The example that will always stick out in my mind is Nick Carter asking in Backstreet’s Back, “am I sexual?” (Yes, Nick, you are a sexual being.) As wonderful as sex (the act) is, sex (-uality) is so much more than that. It’s especially ironic considering Valenti is trying to reclaim a more nuanced vision of sexuality from “the virgin/whore binary,” yet her nuanced vision remains so narrow. Sexuality isn’t just having sex. It’s about being created male and female, about our entire being, not just our genitals.

More importantly, I’ve become increasingly skeptical of the “test-drive” approach to love. Yes, of course you want to get to know your partner before you make a longterm commitment, but suggesting that means you ought to take their body for a test drive is a bad, bad way to approach that commitment.

It sets up the spousal model all wrong.

I’ve come to refer to this as the “pleasure and duty” ethic. If people consent mutually to the use of their bodies for pleasure, what’s the problem? Look at the model: Pleasure is the end goal, and consenting to the “use” of your body parts is the means of attaining it. Fluffy feelings of bonding might be a nice side-effect. Orgasm is the intent. The other person becomes a means of achieving your orgasm, and you become a means of theirs. This is objectification by definition, even if it’s mutual and consenting. On top that, pleasure is the metric of success. That is, a successful sex act is one that brings about pleasure. The act of sex becomes, at least in part, an economic transaction where you trade access to your body in exchange for pleasure. And that’s not always going to be a fair trade — and you may evaluate the quality and the fairness of the deal. After all, we test drive cars. And we also sell and replace them when they no longer serve their purpose.

I have a crazy idea: What if the goal of sex is self-giving rather than pleasure? What if the idea was to come into ultimate union with another human being, and the means of attaining that was complete and total self-giving and affirmation of the other as other? I have a feeling that the pleasure factors in as a side-effect, without “driving” the entire experience.

I don’t feel the need to take my future spouse for a test drive. I’m not marrying a car.

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Success, Love and Self-Worth

Last week, a friend of mine asked me where I derive my self-worth from. Is it from things like academic success? Apparently, I paused for a moment before responding, “from my relationships with other people.”

She went away thinking about my answer. I went away thinking about her question.

What kind of concept is “self-worth”? How can you be worth anything all by yourself? Quite frankly, it seems to me a sign of how lost we are as a culture that we’re trying to find meaning in our lives by seeking answers to such awkward questions.

At any rate, it was a question that I’d never really considered much and, though I’d give the same answer if asked again, it’s much, much more than just “relationships with other people.” There is a great underlying significance intended there. I derive self-worth from my success. But success, properly understood.

About a year ago, I attended a funeral at my high school. Brother Domenic, the principal, delivered a eulogy during which, amongst many other things, he expressed what he felt was an important reality we were forced to consider.

The way we measure success as human beings is terribly flawed. I am increasingly of the view personally that we have it terribly wrong. It is not the length of days or the accomplishments or the conquests, or health or the career, which makes us most human and therefore like God in whose image we are created. It is our capacity to love and be loved by others.

I derive my self-worth from my success, from my capacity to love and be loved by others. And I mean this in the strongest sense possible. What else is of any value?

Nothing is more important than being in the presence of beauty and giving birth in beauty.

The rest follows.

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