The following is a homily I prepared for a joint assignment between my Homiletics and my Theology of Marriage class. It is based on a section of Pope Saint John Paul II’s Love and Responsibility, a text written before he was pope that could be described as the philosophical companion to his Theology of the Body.
I want to talk today about three things: sensuality, sentimentality, and love, hopefully without making you blush too much. Each of these have almost certainly been present in your life so far, and I pray that all three will continue. However, if you focus only on either sensuality or sentimentality, you will fall short of the loving union that is marriage. If you strive only for love in a way that excludes sensuality and sentimentality in a way that somehow excludes one or both as beneath you, you will never live the true conjugal love to which you are called in marriage. All three of these are absolutely necessary to a lifetime of married love.
When I say the word “sensuality,” what do you think of (after the blush dies down). Let me offer you a definition for us to work with. Sensuality is the physical aspect of love. Deborah and Danny (any married couples here), look at each other. Do you feel that spark of attraction? If you don’t, find it. Deborah and Danny, if you don’t, let me know, and we can skip the rest of this and just go to the party (but it won’t be a wedding reception anymore).
Sensuality is that spark that happens when you look at your beloved. You take in the sight of your beloved, and it brings you joy, even pleasure. That’s ok. I firmly believe (and Saint John Paul II is with me on this one) that married life absent of sensuality is an unhealthy relationship. There is a risk, though. If that’s all there is, then you fall into the risk of simply using each other for your own pleasure. If you go down that road, you risk not only failing to achieve the marital love to which you are called but even falling into the very opposite of love – that should scare you. Luckily, I am going to take a guess that even hearing me say that is repugnant. If you look at your beloved and think of just using them for pleasure, it should disgust you, and it probably does. But that doesn’t mean that the pleasure should be absent because you are afraid having a less holy relationship. If you are to live the married love for which God created you, it must include that spark.
How about sentimentality? I’m guessing this term, itself, brings up the sappiness of the average chick-flick (sorry, Deborah). If you have ever watched “Sleepless in Seattle,” sentimentality was the emotion that was being obstructed throughout most of the movie.
Sentimentality is that desire to be close. It’s the emotional fulfillment that comes from just being close to your beloved. You know what I’m talking about. You’ve been there. It’s that part of a relationship where you are happy just to be in the presence of the one you love, when it doesn’t matter if you’re working, cooking, reading, talking, or just watching Netflix and chilling, it’s a joy that derives from the presence of the one you love.
Sentimentality runs deeper than sensuality because it doesn’t focus on the person’s body, the physical pleasure of their presence, but the whole person. It doesn’t run the same risk of using your beloved and declining into the very opposite of love. At the same time, though, the risk may be even more insidious. Even though it, like sensuality, falls short of marital love, it can more easily be mistaken for it. As long as you seek just proximity, but not seek to give yourself, you will fall short of the love to which you are called and which God offers you in your married life. At the same time, if your relationship lacks this sentimentality, it will fall apart; think of the married couple who can’t stand to be in the same room as one another. Can you really say they love each other, anymore?
Pope Saint John Paul II refers to sentimentality and sensuality as the raw materials for true conjugal love. They are both absolutely necessary, but they are not enough. If that’s the case what is the next step to refine these raw materials into true conjugal love? The answer is love itself.
Let me explain. Each of these is necessary. When you experience sensuality, you are drawn physically to your beloved. When you experience sentimentality, you are drawn emotionally. When you love, you are drawn spiritually to the whole person, body, soul, and spirit, and, on top of that, you seek to give yourself wholly to your beloved. This is what purifies and refines the raw materials; When you both recognize your attraction to your beloved and seek to give yourself completely, body, spirit, and soul, to the other, then you will be able to experience true conjugal, married, and total love, a love that is free, total, and fruitful.
So, Deborah and Danny, this is my prayer for you. Embrace the sensuality in your relationship. Embrace the desire to be together and just spend time around each other. Purify these by truly desiring nothing more than to give yourself in your entirety to each other and seeking nothing but to be loved in return. If you do that, you have the building blocks for a life together.