Seventy-one years ago today, my parents married at St. Edmund Church in Oak Park, five days after Valentine’s Day. Since I live across the street from St. Edmund, I am frequently reminded of this, but I’m even more mindful of it today. Their wedding being one of the main reasons for my very existence, I don’t take their anniversary lightly. But it wasn’t the main reason for my existence. Neither was the sexual act that produced me.
The main reason was love.
Most people are similarly lucky that way, though it is, alas, not universal. My parents, however, expressly made it clear that love was the alpha and the omega of our existence — where we came from and where we would end up.
Love is at the heart of everything, the first cause, the main cause. When we depart from love, I was taught, everything goes wrong.
So in honor of my late, great parents’ wedding anniversary, a sermon:
The Catholic Church, another important formational dynamic in my upbringing, teaches that the primary purpose of sex is procreation. That is uppermost in God’s mind, they say. I don’t believe it.
They miss the mark, I think, because, as a hierarchical institution governed mostly by male celibates they were preaching from their heads instead of teaching from their hearts. Their mistake, I think, is viewing God as a noun instead of a verb.
If there is a God, then God is love. If you want to be obedient, if you want to submit to God’s will, then love. The way, the truth and the life is love. What is uppermost in God’s mind? Love, which is likewise not a noun but a verb.
Jesus’ first great commandment is to love God with everything we’ve got — except it isn’t everything because as the second great commandment suggests, we have capacity enough to love our neighbors as well as ourselves.
Love your enemies, Jesus said. Do good to those who hate you.
What you do for the least of these, he added, you do for me.
And finally: Love one another as I have loved you.
What would Jesus (and Buddha and Muhammad and so many other spiritual teachers) do? Love.
Love is the alpha and the omega. After we have mastered the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, wrote Chardin, we shall harness the energies of love and for the second time in our history, we will discover fire.
When in doubt, love.
Love is at the heart of everything. We are here to love and learn how to love better.
Love is at the core of all our moral dilemmas, none of which can be resolved without it.
The primary purpose of sex, then, is not procreation. It is love. If, morally, loveless sex comes up short, so does loveless procreation. If abortion disrespects life, so does unwanted pregnancy. Which is the best way to cultivate respect for life — through punishment or through love?
As St. Paul said in Corinthians I, Chapter 13, the high-water mark of the New Testament, if you have all the eloquence in the world yet speak without love, people will hear nothing but the clanging of your cymbals.
Contraception gives couples some control over when they bring children into the world. It gives them a better chance to procreate with love. If contraception increases the odds of loving procreation, it is a moral good. If prohibiting contraception increases unprotected sex and careless procreation, it can be the cause of great harm, especially if unwanted children are the result.
We can teach the morality of sex and procreation, but only if we do it with love. Preaching the evils of abortion while opposing contraception is a moral failure. Hating abortion causes too many who claim to be “pro-life” to preach without love, their words drowned out by their clashing cymbals.
Teaching with love beats preaching against evil every time.
Do many parents come to love the children of unwanted pregnancies? Many do, which is a wonderful testament to the better angels of our nature. But not all do. Giving couples more control over when they bring children into the world puts us on the side of love.
Respect for life is a happy consequence of love. Respect for life is the unhappy casualty of prohibition and condemnation.
And disrespect for one another’s conflicting truths gets us nowhere in the abortion/reproductive rights argument. Listening to and respecting each other’s truth transforms that argument into potentially constructive dialogue.
Love is the key.
I have told this story often. As a rebellious teen, I boldly informed my parents one night after supper (probably after reading two pages from the Bible, as we did each night) that I did not believe in God.
My dad listened but said nothing. When I went to bed later that night, I found a small note on my pillow. I discovered it last week as I was going through the accumulation of memorabilia from my past, which I have lugged from household to household over a span of 50 years, like Jacob Marley with his ponderous chain of moneyboxes. I couldn’t believe I still had it, written in pencil in the elegant curves of my father’s penmanship.
“Where Love is, there God is also, Dad.”
They say there are no atheists in foxholes. Well, I wonder if there are many whose atheism could survive a note like that.
My search for God and struggles with doubt continue to this day.
But my belief in the divine power of love remains unshaken.