I was pushing the “seek” button on my car radio the other day looking for a decent song. Station 1: “Love me, love me, say that you love me….” Station 2: “Baby-eyah-eyah-eyah, my world stands still when I’m with you oh-oo-oh….” Station 3: “I’m keepin’ you forever and for always, we will be together all of our days….” Station 4: “Love, love me do, you know I love you….”
In the midst of so many songs seeking or celebrating love, I was reminded of something Pope Benedict XVI said in his grand encyclical God Is Love. He observed that in the “love between man and woman…human beings glimpse an apparently irresistible promise of happiness” (no. 2). Why, then, do we also have songs on the radio like “Love Stinks” (J. Geils Band, anyone)? How is it that something promising such happiness leads so often to misery and despair? Are we mistaken to look for happiness in the love between man and woman? What light do the Gospels shed on any of this?
When some Pharisees questioned Jesus about the meaning of marriage, they recalled to Him that Moses allowed divorce. Jesus’ reply provides one of the keys to understanding the Gospel: “For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so” (Mt 19:8). In effect, Jesus is saying something like this: “You think all the tension, conflict, and heartache in the male-female relationship is normal? This isn’t normal. This isn’t the way God created it to be. Something has gone terribly wrong.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that “the disorder we notice so painfully [in the male-female relationship] does not stem from the nature of man and woman, nor from the nature of their relations, but from sin. As a break with God, the first sin had for its consequence the rupture of the original communion between man and woman” (CCC, no. 1607). That’s the bad news. But here’s the good news: “Jesus came to restore creation to the purity of its origins” (2336). Therefore, by “following Christ, renouncing themselves, and taking up their crosses…spouses will be able to ‘receive’ the original meaning of marriage and live it with the help of Christ” (1615).
Men and women are not entirely mistaken to seek happiness in the sexual relationship. But eros (human, erotic love) has no possibility of granting the happiness it promises if it is cut off from agape (divine, sacrificial love).
Where did Jesus perform His first miracle and what was it? The newly married couple at Cana had run out of wine and Christ restored it in superabundance. The “new wine” Christ offers at this marriage celebration is a symbol revealing the heart of His mission: Jesus came to restore the order of love in a world seriously distorted by sin. And the union of the sexes, as always, lies at the basis of the human “order of love.”
Wine is a biblical symbol of God’s love poured out for us. In the beginning before sin, man and woman were “inebriated” on God’s love, so to speak. Divine love flowed from them and between them like wine. Since the dawn of sin, however, we have all “run out of wine.” We don’t have what it takes to love each other in a way that corresponds with the heart’s true desire. And so, the man-woman relationship offers an “irresistible promise of happiness,” but lacking God’s “wine,” it cannot deliver. Or, as the J. Geils Band put it, lacking God’s wine, “love stinks.”
This is why the miracle at the wedding feast in Cana is such cause for rejoicing. Christ came into the world to restore the wine into man and woman’s relationship to penetrate eros with agape. As we drink deeply from this “new wine,” we find ourselves empowered to love as we are called to love. This doesn’t make love easy true love always passes by way of the Cross but it does make true love possible. This is good news in a world of wounded lovers.
Christopher West is a fellow of the Theology of the Body Institute.
His books and tapes on the “theology of the body” are available from our online store.