Kevin: John Paul II’s Theology of the Body has a wide following in the Catholic world. Your book, Men, Women, and the Mystery of Love looks at his earlier work, Love and Responsibility. What is the difference between Theology of the Body and Love and Responsibility, and why did you choose to study and write on Love and Responsibility?
Sri: As a friend of mine in marriage ministry says, “Theology of the Body is beautiful and inspiring. But Love and Responsibility changes the way you interact the opposite sex right away.” It’s immediately practical and addresses the real relationship issues we face every day.
I think many people jump into Theology of the Body without focusing on the foundational relationship skills that they desperately need – for friendship, dating, engagement, and marriage. That’s what Love and Responsibility gives us: a clear vision for how to live these relationships well, the key ingredients of authentic love, the challenges that hinder true love from growing, the ways men and women approach relationships differently, and the skills and virtues we need for our love to mature.
When I first starting teaching a Theology of the Body class at Benedictine College many years ago. I went back and read Love and Responsibility, because it’s the key background to TOB. I remember spending much of my winter break down in the Abbey Crypt on campus preparing for this class and reading Love and Responsibility slowly and prayerfully—only about 10-20 pages each hour. I was taken in by how profoundly applicable this was for our daily lives. First and foremost for me as a married man, but also for the college students that I would be teaching.
I knew JPII’s powerful message needed to get out more into the mainstream of Catholic culture, and that became the foundation for the classes, seminars and talks I started giving on the topic and eventually the book, Men, Women and the Mystery of Love.
Kevin: Recently, the research book, Young Catholic America, revealed that among practicing unmarried Catholic millennials, aged 18-23, 25% had cohabitated, 61% have had sex, and 20% had been pregnant or impregnated someone else. How do you think that the message Love and Responsibility can help practicing Catholics live out the faith when it comes to their sexuality?
Sri: Young adults are struggling in their romantic relationships and their sexuality in so many ways. I’ve heard many of them ask questions like, “Is real love even possible? I was dating someone and I thought they were the one, but they weren’t. What went wrong? How do I avoid that in the future?”
Fewer and fewer people are bothering getting married today. The hook-up culture, open-ended relationships and cohabitation are becoming ever more the norm. Many people are scared. And there’s a lot of hurt. They doubt they can ever find a life-long, committed relationship of love, and so they settle for these counterfeits which will never satisfy the deepest desires on their hearts. All human persons desire to love and to be loved. They all want to be loved for who they are…they long to be known.
I think deep down most college students and young adults realize that the culture’s approach to love and sexuality is not working, but they don’t know what else to do. Love and Responsibility shows them a way out. It offers them good news: their desires for authentic love can be fulfilled—if they follow God’s plan.
Kevin: Men, Women, and the Mystery of Love was written in 2007. What feedback have you received over the last 8 years, especially from FOCUS missionaries and college students that you have talked to?
Sri: People are so thankful for how JPII provides a roadmap for navigating our relationships with the opposite sex: How do I know if I’m in a relationship of authentic love or just another relationship that’s doomed to failure? What do I need to have in place for love to grow and not fade? What prevents true love from developing and how can I avoid those pitfalls?
One of the biggest points I often hear about is the role of the emotions. Many people haven’t thought about how our emotions can lead us astray in our relationships if we’re not careful. Men Women and the Mystery of Love has chapters about the proper role of emotions, how we can use each other not just for physical pleasure but for the rush of emotions we receive from our beloved and how we easily fall into idealizing our beloved in ways that hinder authentic love.
I also hear feedback on the book’s discussion about how people often compromise on sexual purity because they desperately want to keep a boyfriend or girlfriend. As one woman said, “If I start by giving him what he wants, maybe he’ll eventually love me as a person.” But in these situations, the woman simply allows herself to become an object to be used—not a person to be loved and cherished. Deep down she knows the man is still not totally committed to her. He’s only committed to what he gets out of her.
Married couples also have appreciated the book. They often are moved by JPII’s vision for how to build deep trust and intimacy in marriage, how we often fall short and the patience and forgiveness we must have with our spouse’s faults, especially when they hurt us.
Kevin: A new edition of Men, Women, and the Mystery of Love was just released in October of this year. How is the revised edition different than the original?
Sri: This new edition has all the material from the original one, but incorporates stories and mini-testimonies from people who have read the book over the last 8 years: college students, young adults, FOCUS missionaries, and married couples. People around the world have shared with me how the ideas from Love and Responsibility have shaped their lives, shed light on their mistakes, brought healing in their hearts and given them hope for the future. These stories scattered throughout the book give poignant examples of how to live out JPII’s vision and respond to the relationship challenges we face each day.
I also added two new chapters. One is for single people, even if they aren’t dating anyone. It discusses how they can begin applying these principles right now to prepare them for a future dating relationship and, God willing, a future marriage. The other chapter is for engaged couples. It provides practical ways to prepare their hearts for their future spouse in those months leading up to the wedding.
Kevin: What ways do you recommend using Men Women and they Mystery of Love?
Sri: I know a lot of people have used this book for FOCUS Bible studies. It has reflection questions that make it easy to use for small group discussions. Many dioceses use it for young adult ministry, for marriage preparation and for marriage enrichment. People who have been married for 10, 20, or 30 years read the book and say, “I wish we read this when we were first married.” Catholic high schools and youth groups have used it for their teens.
In the world of FOCUS, however, I hope this book will be used not just for an ordinary small-group study, but also for outreach—to draw in the crowd that might not come to a regular Bible study. I’ve heard, for example, how a group has used Men, Women and the Mystery of Love on the streets of New York City to evangelize hundreds of young adults passing by. Some stop, listen and take materials home to read more and come back the next week.
This makes sense. People who are usually not interested in Christianity may be more likely to read a book about relationships. This is where everyone is struggling; everyone has questions and everyone is looking for guidance. If we go out to meet them in their felt-need, they may be more open to receiving the light of Christ’s truth and His love.