Relationships and the Call to Love
“[T]he person is a good towards which the only proper and adequate attitude is love,” said Blessed Pope John Paul II. Through relationship with others we answer the call to love, which he says is “the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being.” Blessed Pope John Paul II and Carmelite philosopher Edith Stein––St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross––agree that women have a particular ability to focus on the person, thereby more naturally answering the call to relationship.
Relationships are critical for both men and women. They provide encouragement, constructive correction, diversion, healing, self-knowledge, and companionship. The desire for intimacy with other human persons is an essential part of who we are. Far from proving easy, however, relationships invariably involve the cross. Obstacles abound: time and space present challenges; technology sometimes hinders more than it helps; idealized romance movies and literature have normalized unrealistic and unhealthy expectations for romantic relationships. Divorce and broken families are so common that the possibility of a lifelong romantic relationship and the responsibilities of parenting seem impossible. Increasingly, marriage is a word with seemingly no universal meaning. Objectification and lust can creep into all types of relationships: friendship, dating relationships, and marriage––as well as our interactions with strangers, leaving wounds, dissatisfaction, and an unquenched longing for meaningful relationships. Also, elements of seemingly lesser importance, such as temperaments, have the potential to greatly influence the dynamics of a relationship for both the good and the ill. The appropriate element of mutual vulnerability in a relationship can be difficult to discern, embrace, and achieve. Indeed, sometimes heroic effort, or rather supernatural virtue, seems necessary to be in relation with another in a healthy and harmonious way.
Even with all of these challenges, we still desire and seek relationships. Instead of braving the impressive assortment of challenges, though, we sometimes settle for superficial ways of relating with others and instead seek consolation in shallow friendships. Conversely, we can fall prey to a misplaced reliance upon our human relationships and a forgetfulness of the paramount relationship in our life: our relationship with the Lord. Just as it is necessary to spend time with our closest friends, spouse, and family members, it is even more important to spend time away––finding sanctuary in our inner room where only God can accompany us. A life of personal encounter, personal relationship, with Him is the only way to reach true and complete fulfillment.
Just as an individual’s relationship with Christ is necessarily personal, so must all our relationships be deeply personal. Zosima recounts the experience of a doctor in The Brothers Karamazov, which indicates the difficulty in this: “‘I love mankind,' he said, 'but I am amazed at myself: the more I love mankind in general, the less I love people in particular, that is individually, as separate persons.’’” Edith Stein points to woman’s natural desire to “embrace that which is living, personal, and whole.” Thus, women are more naturally able to resist the inconsistency expressed by the doctor, and men can learn from women’s orientation toward the person. Despite the difficulties, we are all called to love through relationship. Bl. Pope John Paul II states: "Man cannot find himself except through a sincere gift of himself." We find ourselves and the persons we are meant to be through our relationships with others, and in that we find fulfillment, joy, healing, and peace.
We invite you to join in our discussion on February 7-8, 2014 at the ninth annual Edith Stein Project, “Relationships and the Call to Love” at McKenna Hall on the University of Notre Dame campus. We hope that our conference will be intellectually engaging, a chance for fellowship, and a source of healing. We welcome submissions of abstracts for presentations. Please join us!