This summer I’ve been working my way through Karol Wojtyla’s Love & Responsibility.
Fr. Wojtyla wrote this book before becoming Pope John Paul II. At the time he was working as a professor at a university in Poland and spent a lot of time chatting with young people. The insight he gained from his conversations with them , and other pastoral experience, became the raw material for this seminal work about human relationships and how they reveal to us the Divine.
This book is definitely not light reading but I highly recommend it to anyone interested in Theology of the Body and Catholic Social Teaching. It’s not so much a theological work though. Wojtyla draws on biology, psychology, sociology, and anthropology in his defence of the Catholic tradition surrounding family life and sexual ethics.
I read it slowly throughout the summer, section by section, to ensure that I was able to really reflect on all the material. At a period in my life’s journey where I am thinking a lot (trust me, A LOT) about human relationships, it really addressed my fears and concerns and re-oriented my focus towards God. This book has proven to be a source of great grace at this time in my life.
It reminded me that authentic love wills the good for the object of that love, bringing us out of ourselves and expanding our capacity for good. It requires sacrifice and putting the needs of the other person above our own desires.
Love & Responsibility can help us make sense of the confusing areas of human relationships and demonstrates that chastity in relationships is not about hard and fast lines in the sand but rather about understanding the root of our desires and determining whether or not they bring the beloved closer to the good (which for a theist, is God).
A woman is capable of truly making a gift of herself only if she fully believes in the value of her person and in the value as a person of the man to whom she gives herself. And a man is capable of fully accepting a woman’s gift of herself only if he is fully conscious of the magnitude of the gift—which he cannot be unless he affirms the value of her person. (129)
Throughout the book, Wojtyla uses the phrase, “the education of love”. What does he mean? That love is a challenge. It’s not a ready-made feeling; it’s a disposition that needs to be learned and cultivated. It requires thoughtful integration of the emotional experiences (those warm fuzzies) within the framework of the dignity of the human person and a subsequent commitment to the other person’s good.
And all of this points towards the vibrant and full relationship between human beings and our Creator.