Pop culture obscures the Father’s ‘love story’ for us

rachel    News flash: We are living at a time when erotic fiction is topping best-seller lists around the world. That’s right, folks: “50 Shades of Grey” has set the record as the fastest-selling paperback of all time, surpassing the popular “Harry Potter” series.
    I personally struggle to understand how so many people are drawn to a book that camouflages pornography as a relationship. Although some argue that the books of this trendy trilogy possess a redemptive quality, it doesn’t take a moral theologian to see that the means to the end of these books have no real “grey” area.
    I do not claim to have read these books. Very honestly, I have no desire to do so. Unfortunately, as a young adult, I’m already bombarded with skewed depictions of sex and relationships. So many movies are made with a “Friends with Benefits” sort of title nowadays that it’s hard to distinguish one from the other.
    I’ll admit that I watched one movie of this kind out of curiosity recently and began to think to myself, “That was actually kind of cute.” Yet, this made me even more concerned that people my age might actually think “no strings attached” sexual relationships leading into happy-ending romances is a normal occurrence.
    When we observe our culture’s ideals concerning relationships in the real world, it seems obvious that they don’t quite have the happy-ending, fairy-tale characteristic that we are constantly fed. When we hear the statistic that more than half of marriages are now ending in divorce, can we not at least logically conclude that there is some kind of connection between our culture’s outlook on relationships and the rate at which they survive?
    Jan and Lloyd Tate, who have been working in marriage preparation for the last 35 years, spoke about this connection at the final session of this summer’s Theology on Tap in a talk entitled “Hope in the Vow.”
    “We are in a very unusual time in our culture in terms of attitudes toward marriage,” Lloyd said.
    At a time when the definition of marriage itself is being highly scrutinized within our culture, the Tates reminded us of some very important truths. The first is that man did not create marriage; God did. Marriage was not originally our idea; it was a part of God’s plan for man from the beginning.
    Through the sacrament of matrimony, God wants to reveal something about himself to us. He wants to reveal something about the way he loves. His love is free, total, faithful and fruitful. This is the kind of love that is reflected in the vows at a Catholic wedding ceremony.
    The Eucharist is the paradigm of this love for us. During the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper, Christ proclaimed, “This is my body, given up for you.” He committed himself to the Father’s will and to each of us. He laid down his life in a full surrender out of a completely selfless love.
    At the Last Supper, Christ also said, “Do this in memory of me.” Essentially, he was saying, “Love as I love.” Pope John Paul II reminds us in his apostolic exhortation “Familiaris Consortio” that spouses are to be a reminder to the church of what happened on the cross.
    The Tates reminded us that couples do not simply receive the sacrament of matrimony on the day that they are married. Rather, they enter into a full sacramental lifestyle of trying to live daily based on how Christ loves. They live to be a reminder to all people that “man cannot fully find himself except through the sincere gift of himself” (John Paul II, “Theology of the Body”).
    This is a necessary message for all of us, no matter what vocation we are called to. Put very simply, we are all called to love and be at the service of one another. If we want to know how we are supposed to love, then we need to look at Jesus.
    This is the crucial element that things like “50 Shades” and “Friends with Benefits” are missing. Not only is there no authentic trust or honest communication being portrayed in these relationships, but there also is no true notion of selflessness. When we take a good look at relationships such as these, it is not that hard to see why they don’t last very long.
    So what’s the big fuss? Does the act of reading this book or watching this movie really affect us? I think, perhaps, it would do all of us some good to ponder what the things we read and watch say about our view of love and how we would choose to receive it.
    We also should consider how these things compare to the greatest love story of all time. How do they match up to the vision of heaven? If you ask me, that’s the real happy ending we should be aiming for. As alarming as our culture’s outlook tends to be, the good news is that there is hope for us yet. Our God is still in the business of redemption.
    We are in the midst of a real story where the God who is love is always revealing himself to us. The happy ending we were designed for is one of eternal bliss with him, and it is completely attainable. Christ offered it to us on the cross, and we are free to accept it any time. When we make the free and conscious choice to enter into this kind of love instead of the false notion of it that the world offers us, we will find that our hearts can heal and our relationships can be transformed.
    Rachel Varisco can be reached at rvarisco@clarionherald.org.

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