This weekend’s first reading provides important insight into the difference between what we might call “surface-love” and “heart-love.” Addressed to men, Proverbs presents this just warning: “Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting; the woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” Our culture today is fixated on the deceptive and the fleeting, molding us to prize a person’s outward charm and beauty above all, but it’s a failing prize. While it’s true that such “surface-love” can mature into a deeper “heart-love,” if love stops at outward charm and beauty, it too will be deceptive and fleeting. Only the inner values of the person can sustain a stable relationship. To get to those inner values, lovers have to learn how to entrust their hearts to one another; they have to learn how to take their walls down, let their masks fall, and entrust their real humanity, warts and all, to each other. The value of a wife who loves her husband in this way is “far beyond pearls,” Proverbs tells us. “Her husband, entrusting his heart to her, has an unfailing prize.”
“My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God,” as we sing in this Sunday’s Responsorial Psalm. The Church calls that thirst eros. Tragically, because we so rarely connect the dots between eros and God, “man unknowingly stretches out in search of the Infinite, but in misguided directions: in drugs, in sexuality lived in a disordered manner, in all-encompassing technologies, in success at any cost, and even in deceptive forms of religiosity,” says Pope Benedict XVI. Jesus refers to one of these deceptive forms of religiosity in this Sunday’s gospel, namely, those virgins who, while supposedly devoting their whole lives to God, “have no oil for their lamps.” Father Raniero Cantalamessa describes these unwise virgins as those who offer the counter witness of a “cold love.” He compares them to “poor lovers who write to the beloved letters copied from a handbook.” If the affections and desires of the heart connected with eros are “systematically denied or repressed” in the name of celibacy, states Fr. Cantalamessa, “the result will be double: either one goes on in a tired way, out of a sense of duty, to defend one’s image, or more or less licit compensations are sought, to the point of the very painful cases that are afflicting the Church.” Wise virgins do not repress eros. Rather, they allow their eros to become what it truly is: a pure, burning, wild, aching longing for God. In other words, their lamps are lit on fire and they are witnesses to the whole world of the eternal marriage that awaits us in heaven.
I’ve had multiple requests to offer some commentary on the “#MeToo” phenomenon. Because of an incredibly busy schedule, this has been my first opportunity.
If you’ve been living on a deserted island for the last few weeks, the Me Too movement (originally launched 10 years ago by Tarana Burke) launched into hyper-drive recently when, in response to the sexual assault charges against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, actress Alyssa Milano invited women who had been sexually assaulted or harassed to write “#MeToo” in response to her tweet. Millions have done just that.
I pray this becomes an opportunity for our entire culture to take an honest look at the roots of the crisis. Does anyone take us to these roots more directly than Christ in his teaching from the Sermon on the Mount? “You have heard the commandment not to commit adultery. But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt 5:27-28).
Today is the Feast of All Souls. It’s distinguished from the feast of “All Saints” by the fact that most of us do not die as saints and are still in need of purification. Protestant reformers used the image of a dung-heap covered by white snow to convey their understanding of what sin has done to us and how Christ saves us. If that’s an accurate image, the idea of purgatory makes no sense: once you say “yes” to Jesus, you’re “covered.”
In this Sunday’s Gospel, Christ reverses the world’s values when he insists that the “greatest among you must be your servant.” For Christ, who is the greatest among us, came not to be served but to serve. One of Saint John Paul II’s greatest theological contributions was his insistence that this call to love as Christ loves – through being a gift to others, through serving others – is stamped by God right in our bodies as male and female. A man’s body makes no sense by itself. Nor does a woman’s. Seen in light of each other, we see the call to be a gift to one another, a gift that is at the service of human life itself. In the second reading, Saint Paul draws from this truth when he says he loved the Thessalonians “as a nursing mother cares for her children. With such affection for you,” he continues, “we were determined to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our very selves as well.” This is what a mother does when she nurses her child. This is what we are all called to do if we are to discover the meaning of life: “For man can only find himself,” observed the Second Vatican Council, “through the sincere gift of himself” (Gaudium et Spes 24).