Recently I attended the stage production of South Pacific, which seemed an appropriate time to reflect on the recent celebration Valentine’s Day. Both occasions raise the profile of human love in all its complex expressions and circumstances, and should give us pause to reflect on our journeys into this mystery, writes Garry Everett.
In South Pacific we hear the words of the signature song in these memorable lines:
‘Who can explain it (love), who can tell you why? Fools give you reasons, wise men never try!’
So what can one do when reflecting on this greatest of all human experiences? It occurred to me that it is a splendid opportunity to pay tribute to three great, but very different teachers, who helped me explore Love.
In paying tribute to these three men, I wish to acknowledge also, the tremendous contribution played in my education in this area, by my wife, daughter, daughters -in -law, and other women friends, who have shared their appreciations of Love from feminine perspectives.
Of the three men, one taught me directly, the other two by their writings, and public presentations of their thoughts. All have different backgrounds, and all lived through turbulent times in society and Church. In the UK, Jack Dominian was a highly respected psychiatrist, counsellor, and marriage guidance expert.
He was, what we might describe as ‘pro love.’ He wrote and lectured extensively not only on love and marriage, but also on why he thought the Catholic Church had not adequately taught the truth about human sexuality. All his work was grounded in the theory and practice of psychiatry over 50 or more years, and exhibited the best of that discipline from Freud to Bowlby.
In his later years, Jack wrote two books which encapsulated much of his life- long learning on his favourite topic of human love. In 2001 he published Let’s Make Love, and in 2004, we were blessed with his Living Love. Any serious student of this field of study would regard these books as compulsory reading.
It is impossible to summarize his work, and one does not need to do that to pay tribute to his unique contributions. Suffice it to quote two pearls of wisdom from his works. Others may have preferred different quotes; some may think my selection too limited. For me, they sum up his work, and are authentically Jack!
Firstly, ‘ It is an enormous task to re- trace our steps (as a Church), to see that God is Love; that all creation is related to love; and that sex expresses it most powerfully.’ Secondly, ‘Truth is at its best when it persuades by what it contains. Truth does not become more persuasive, by surrounding it with more and more authority.’
My second tribute goes to another great teacher with training in psychiatry, Fr Jim Gill. Jim was a Jesuit priest by ordination, and a psychiatrist by profession. I first met Jim when he became my tutor for a summer program in the USA, at a place he founded and directed, The Christian Institute for the Study of Human Sexuality.
Jim began the Institute with the intention of correcting what he saw as inadequate formation programs in seminaries and houses of formation within Religious Orders. He regarded the then programs as deficient in theory, practice, and in Christian insights. Within his Institute programs, Jim conducted wonderfully sensitive, open, professional and helpful discussions in his sessions entitled Let’s Talk About Sex.
I met members of Religious Orders who attended those sessions and found them to be ‘too frank!’ Yet Jim wove a wonderful web of wisdom using insights from psychiatry, spirituality, theology, sexuality and contemporary moral issues, to deepen our understanding and appreciation of human sexuality.
Jim’s professional journal, Human Development, continues to provide scholarly articles about human sexual development, and how we could live our Christian lives within this developmental framework. He eventually extended his program to include lay people who were keen to explore the role of sexuality in human development.
If Jim had one mantra it was: ‘I am concerned with human development, and the Church with ideals. I want to help people to develop i.e. to know how to move from where they are, to where they want to be.’
The third teacher to feature in this tribute was a philosopher and Pope – the late John Paul II. His significant publication, The Theology of the Body, is a monumental achievement. The book is based on 129 audiences he gave between 1979 and 1984. Grounded in biblical revelation, the book helps us to reflect on what it means to be male and female, and to desire sexual union.
The book links human sexuality to the mystery of the Trinitarian God. In one sense this book is singularly the most significant contribution of recent times, to the Church’s understanding of human sexuality and love.
Yet Jack Dominian and Jim Gill would probably have eyed the text with some reservations. They would see the text as too philosophical, too divorced from the realities of people’s lives. They would feel that, despite the then-Pope’s magnificent weaving of scripture, philosophy and sexuality, there remains a yawning gap between the theory and words of love and its practice.
So, as we ponder the realities of love and the various attempts to explain its power in our lives, let us acknowledge those who have helped us on our ways: parents, teachers, spouses, lovers, and children who have all assisted us to plumb the depth of human love. I salute especially Jack, Jim and John.
I give the last words on this topic to the lyrics of another song, made famous by Nat King Cole:
‘The greatest thing you will ever learn, is just to love and be loved in return.’
Garry Everett is deputy chair of Mercy Partners in Queensland and a former Deputy Director of the Queensland Catholic Education Commission and previous chair of the Brisbane Archdiocesan Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace.
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