Posted by: Mike | July 18, 2013

Me, Soulmate, and I

I’m out at a conference this week, so I thought I’d post an older composition of mine:

“Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this very imperfect one) both partners might be found more suitable mates. But the real soul-mate is the one you are actually married to.”  J.R.R. Tolkein

If the contemporary concept of “soul mate” were a person I’d have it drug out into the street and shot. And such vigilante justice would be justified.  Like a villainous mafia boss whose tendrils have infiltrated and taken hold of every facet of society and whose puppetry orchestrates countless deaths, the soul mate fantasy is relationships’ Public Enemy Number One.

It might surprise you, then, to discover that I also believe in soul mates.  But we’ll get to that…

The problem with the current understanding of a soul mate is that it’s really just an extension of the ego.  It’s another person that shares your interests, your desires, your feelings – although ironically not necessarily your beliefs – and is a source of your emotional fulfillment and happiness.  It’s the clichéd Jerry McGuire-ism: “you complete me.”  Too often someone’s soul mate is less an actual person than an experience that happens to them, which is the antithesis of love.  Evidence for this is how quickly these relationships deteriorate when the experience of the person gives way to the person himself and all their glorious imperfections; emotions can only hide how loudly they chew their food for so long…and for the love of all that is holy STOP BITING YOUR NAILS!!!

But I digress.

In the Return of the Jedi there are several scenes of Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader strafing around one another exchanging banter.  One iconic moment is when Luke tells Vader, “I feel the good in you, the conflict,” to which Vader adamantly decries, “there is no conflict!”  What is most profound about this narrative is that Vader is mostly machine at this point, literally his own creation.  It takes another person, Luke, to remove the “mask” and reveal his true nature, the goodness within.  Luke didn’t add anything to Vader, he didn’t complete Vader, he revealed the Anakin that was always there.

Nowhere is this truth more evident than in Scripture with the first soul mates: Adam and Eve.  Prior to the creation of Eve, Adam experienced an “aloneness” so grave it holds the honor of first “not good” in the whole of creation.  When reflecting on this in the past I found the situation puzzling.  Before the fall Adam has the most intimate relationship man ever had with God.  For example, he frequently walks with God through the garden when holy figures throughout the Old Testament could not even look at Him for fear of death.  If the words of St. Augustine are true, and that our “hearts are restless until they rest in you,” where is this “restlessness” coming from?

Adam was not restlessly longing for completion he was longing for identity – he didn’t know who he was.  Yes, he was made in the image of God and shared in His divine love but he could not see or understand himself as made in this image.  Eve, then, is not created separately as an accessory to him but is literally pulled from him.  Adam and Eve are two parts of the same human being and through their union they reveal to each other their identity and what it means to be fully human.

Healthy relationship, exemplified most visibly in marriage, is not about affirming what you already know to be true about yourself; it’s about becoming the person you could never have become without them.  There is no person out there who is going to complete you; such a relationship creates an unhealthy co-dependence and leads to greater disillusionment during the trials marriage is designed to withstand in the first place.

There is, however, a person who can reveal you, a person who can remove the mask of your own, manufactured self-image and bring you to the greatest awareness of yourself, scars and all.  It can be a painful process, but this is the “soul mate” God has destined for you and this, ultimately, can only be found in the complete, willed and irrevocable gift of self.  It is not something that happens to you, it is someone you choose.

For some, this means choosing Christ himself as they take vows and enter into consecrated life – after all, marriage does not exist in heaven and is a tangible sign here on earth of the eternal marriage with God that awaits us.  Either way, finding a “soul mate” is really about “finding your nails.”  It’s not the person that is going to validate your false impressions of yourself and give you that warm fuzzy feeling but it’s the person that is going to lead you to the cross and your path to holiness.  It may not be fluffy and pretty, but it’s the Truth and nothing short of that will complete you.

Posted by: Mike | July 14, 2013

Your Life is Loved

For a Christian, life is not the product of mere chance, but the fruit of a call and personal love.

— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) July 14, 2013

Little boy on beach at sunsetThe phenomenon of creating life is perhaps one of the most underrated miracles; the frequency with which it happens should not make it any less so.  Mankind tends to believe, at times more or less explicitly than others, that the creation of life is a purely material act under our control.  We forget that we are only co-creators, mutual participants with the author of Life.  We had no input in the design of the human person and the manner in which the species is propagated.  Further, our participation isn’t necessary, it is pure gift.

When the Pharisees are priding themselves on being sons of Abraham in Scripture, St. John the Baptist retorts that God could raise sons of Abraham from the very stones.  The Lord of all creation does not need us to create human life; He did not need it in the beginning and he certainly does not need it now.  Our participation is a gift.  It is an insight into a facet of our Creator’s existence.

As a father myself, I remember a unique moment with the birth of our first child.  I had read a multitude of resources to prepare myself for the experience, both mentally and emotionally, but nothing compared to the event itself.  I remember beholding my child for the first time, holding her in my arms overcome with awe and joy, tears flooding my eyes…when I heard a whisper: “Mike, you see this?  Do you feel this?  This is just a glimpse of the joy I have when I see you.”

The joy of childbirth is merely a taste of the infinite delight and awe God has for each and every one of you.  You bring a greater joy to His heart than you could ever imagine.  As parents, mystics experiencing in creation what can’t be seen by human eyes, we should be forever humbled and honored by such a remarkable gift.

P.S. I highly recommend listening to “Take Me Into the Beautiful” by Cloverton while reflecting on this.

The debate over same-sex marriage is a much-needed one in our country because it is not an isolated issue. In many ways, this debate is taking place in the public square precisely because heterosexuals have already redefined marriage by their own actions. Over the past 40 years we have seen children removed from the definition of marriage, with couples making every effort to sterilize their union and have as few children as possible, if at all. Sex has been removed, it is no longer considered an act reserved for the marital union and is promoted as acceptable between any adults under any pretense as long as they consent. Finally, life-long commitment has been removed, with a divorce rate of 50% and the rise of “no-fault” divorce the oath “until death do us part” has lost its meaning.heart-lonely

When you remove children, sex, and life-long commitment from marriage, what is left? The feeling of being loved.

Marriage has been reduced to the feeling of being loved and anyone can feel loved by anybody…or anything. This is why some are also now calling for polygamy and a man in Japan petitioned the government to allow marriage with a fictional manga character. The reduction of marriage to a degree of love, as opposed to a type of love with function and purpose, is a significant reason why the divorce rate has skyrocketed and every metric of relationship stability and satisfaction has declined over that same amount of time. “Love” is too nebulous a concept to be the firm basis of any institution. Certainly the emotive experience of love is part of marriage but there are myriad types of human relationship that possess love without constituting a marriage. So, before we begin the conversation about who can and can’t marry, both sides of this debate need to first define marriage. What act is specifically, and uniquely, “marital” and cannot be found in any other type of relationship?

Proponents of natural marriage have an answer to that question – at least on paper despite a poor track record of living it out – which also offers the primary justification for the government’s involvement. Generally speaking, the government should not concern itself with our relationships, who we are dating, our Facebook friends, etc. (or at least before Prism). The only reason why the government has a vested interest in marriage is because it is the only relationship capable of creating another citizen. The new life this unique relationship creates possesses his/her own rights which warrant protection and, until a certain age, they are incapable of defending these rights in the face of neglect, abuse, or even the dissolution of their family.

Furthermore, all sociological data continues to support the fact that the best environment for a child’s development is to be in a loving household composed of their mother and their father. It is true that children are very resilient and can flourish in other arrangements but not a single alternative arrangement has been proven to be more beneficial to a child than that of their natural family. This is neither by accident nor coincidence any more than the pressing of a gas pedal causing a car to accelerate is accidental or coincidental. It happens by design. Love is the very foundation of life; every single one of us is designed to exist as the fruit of love and we need not look any further than the emotional harm and emptiness people wrestle with when they are denied this design – most especially children of divorce. Why would we not focus more on what’s best for our children instead of how many different arrangements they can survive through?

So, lest we get lost in heated rhetoric and emotional red herrings that only serve as distractions, we must begin with that fundamental question: What is marriage? This is not a question of who loves whom more, or who is more committed than whom, because “love” and “commitment” are virtues to be expected in all human relationships. What makes marriage uniquely different? This is a question both sides of the debate need to take more seriously, especially with an unacceptable divorce rate of 50%, and I believe the answer will ultimately benefit us all.

Posted by: Mike | July 13, 2013

A New Hope

It has been about 2 years since this blog was created. Far from being a notable anniversary, the number of years in existence surpasses the number of posts. What once was inspired by hope and promise gave way to…life. Time was rarely available to commit and it quickly fell into the dustbin of my long-term memory.

I have been compelled to resurrect the project with renewed vigor and will, at long last, begin actually posting.

Posted by: catholicromantic | June 30, 2011

Wait for it…

This foray into the blogosphere has just begun.  Please, for the love of all that is decent in this world, bear with me.