The marriage of my Aunt Mary and Uncle Pat was a love-match and one that grew over the years. They never had children, although they wanted them, but their love for each other flowed over onto all those around them. It began, so my Aunt said, when they first saw each other at a Parish dance and danced together. As they danced she asked him what he did for a living and he told her that he was a carpenter, at which my Aunt thought to herself, “Mmm! That would be useful about the house!” What my Uncle thought, was always much more difficult to discover, for he was quiet and reserved, as was seen when they went to see the Parish Priest to arrange for their marriage; the priest asked him, “So, you want to marry Mary Burke?” and my Uncle replied, “She’ll do!” However, over the years his love for her ran deep as I remember when my Aunt went into hospital for a cancer operation and I went to be with him during that tense time. When I phoned the hospital to enquire how the operation had gone and told him that it had gone well, he began to clap and cheer with tears in his eyes – one of the few times I saw the depth of his feeling for Mary. However, the operation was not a complete success and the cancer began to grow again and when Uncle Pat realised that he was going to lose his Mary, he began to shrink and grow old very quickly. Finally he had a stroke and died sooner afterwards, but I am sure that the cause of his death was not the stroke, but a broken heart – he could not face a life without his Mary, he wanted to go first – and my aunt was to follow him not long after.
There were many elements which helped make theirs such a good marriage – a respect for and a care for each other, a mutual concern for others and a willingness to be of help and an enjoyment in their many visitors – but there was also that attraction, which had first drawn their eyes to each other across that dance hall so many years before. That did not fade and, in fact, grew and my Aunt Mary was quite open about the fact that when they went to bed at night, they said their prayers together and then had a cuddle before they went to sleep. That power, which drew them first together, pulled them closer over the years and underlay the blossoming of their love was their sexual attraction for each other.
The other day, at Mass, there was a reading from St Paul warning against fornication, impurity and promiscuity, for they are empty promises. As I pondered the reading, I realised how important it is to have something like the love-story of my aunt and uncle as a backdrop for listening to texts like that and for understanding and teaching about sexuality. If I see fornication, pornography etc. as “things”, they can appear as something like “forbidden fruits” – desirable, but forbidden – but if I see them against the back-ground of a love story, I can see them as a failure to love, a wrong turning, something that did not lead where it wanted to go and ended in a burnt-out fizz.
Be we married or single, our love for one another finds its energy and power in our sexuality – our attraction towards others and this is as true for priests and religious as it is for married lay-people.. This attraction takes many forms: the love of a mother for a child, a friend for a friend or a lover for a lover, but all is carried along on our sexuality – that force and power that pulls us out of ourselves towards others. Without our sexuality there can be no caring, no gentleness, no understanding – no love. However, although our sexuality is that which moves us into love, it does not do so automatically – for we are usually conscious only of the immediate object of our attraction. If it to bring us into that deep love, which songs hail and books laud, we have to see that sexuality also speaks of tomorrow and not just today; there is something in it that wants to go beyond the present moment. If I celebrate and enjoy it tonight and walk away tomorrow I am left with ashes. To be loved can create us, enhance us, give us courage to be, but to be loved for a night and then left can injure, destroy and demean. Not forbidden fruits, but a time-bomb.
C. S. Lewis, the author of the “Narnia” stories, spoke of our sexuality and says that the power of our sexuality is the force that ultimately carries us towards God and makes his point with the rather shocking remark that a man who knocks on the door of a brothel is, in fact, someone looking for God. The great mystics knew this and often spoke of their mystical experiences in sexual language, but then, so did my aunt and uncle. I was with my aunt as my uncle lay dying in hospital and I remember her whispering to him as she caressed and loved him for the last time, “Give the Sacred Heart a kiss from me, Paddy” They knew that the love they had found on earth could not be the end, but would be taken up into the great love towards which all is directed.
This week, I went to spend a night at a small mission by the coast, an hour’s journey from here. It is a lovely spot and three of us went swimming for what was probably the last time this year, for the sea gets rougher from now until about March or April next year. We swam twice – the night we arrived and the next morning and I enjoyed the exercise, because the waves were quite playful! We also discussed theology and spirituality as we bobbed up and down in the waves – so it was personally as well as physically stimulating. However, I felt tiny stings on various parts of my body and was told that they come from bits off the tentacles of jelly-fish. I continued to feel the tiny stings, even when we got back to the house. However, that night, a kind parishioner who happened to be at the evening rosary gave me some oil to rub in – and that worked wonderfully.
It is All Souls Day, and the cemetery here at St Joseph’s is a wonderful sight with all the candles flickering – despite the rain, which is dribbling most of the time. I went up in the evening to visit the graves of my Mill Hill brothers and light candles in their memory. It is also a nice way of remembering my own family and relatives and I lit candles also in their memory.