Bishop's Column

Real love and the urgency of evangelization

Across America, husbands will take their wives on dates for Valentine’s Day. Boyfriends will pick up their girlfriends, with flowers and chocolate. And groups of friends, celebrating the day without significant others, will go out together to enjoy a cultural celebration devoted to “love.”

This year, many of those on Valentine’s dates will go to the movies, to watch one of the most anticipated movie releases in recent memory. They will buy tickets, popcorn, and sodas, and settle down to watch a man sexually brutalize a woman.

The movie is “Fifty Shades of Grey.” It is based on a novel so popular it has sold more than 100 million copies across the globe. The novel is the story of a powerful executive who enters into a violent sexual relationship with a young college student.

Some fans have suggested that the book’s erotic content can help married couples rekindle their intimate lives. Some have praised it for allowing women to explore their own sexuality. But, alas, many describe the book as harmless fantasy, an indulgent exploration of a world they would never actually enter.

But “Fifty Shades of Grey” is not harmless, and its graphic depictions of sexual violence cannot possibly help married couples to love each other.  The book is textual pornography. The movie is visually violent pornography, which does incredible violence to the dignity of women. “Fifty Shades of Grey” degrades women as sex objects, and debases the incredible beauty of sexual love.

It cannot be denied that “Fifty Shades of Grey” has become incredibly popular. I have not read “Fifty Shades of Grey,” but I know it is consumed voraciously, especially by women. There are probably several reasons for this. But at the core of the book’s popularity is this: women, and all of us, have a profound desire to be loved. Our culture suggests that becoming a sex object is the key to finding love. “Fifty Shades of Grey” exploits the idea that a woman will never be loved unless she degrades her sexuality.

Jennifer Lawrence, the star of the very popular “Hunger Games” series, was embroiled in controversy last year when pornographic photos of her surfaced on the internet. Lawrence had taken the photos herself, and given them to her boyfriend. “Either your boyfriend is going to look at porn,” she said “or he’s going to look at you.“

Recently, a college student told a friend of mine that “today, girls would much rather be used than be ignored.”

Real love doesn’t require that women allow anyone to objectify them. In truly loving relationships, men and women respect the meaning of sexuality, and its dignity. In truly loving relationships, men and women know they don’t need to debase themselves in order to keep a relationship intact. In truly loving relationships, sexuality is a gift expressed in marriage, in union with God’s plan for procreative and unitive intimacy.

We should oppose the intrusion of pornographic media in our community.  But we should also respond to the reasons people read and view pornographic material. We should give witness to the freedom that comes from real love. We should reach out to our friends and neighbors with a Christian vision of marriage, of marital intimacy, and of love.

Knowing real love, the love that comes from being sons and daughters of God the Father, is the antidote to the insecurities, fears, and loneliness that drive people to accept the worldview of “Fifty Shades of Grey.” We should work to bring those who accept a distorted vision of love to an encounter with Jesus Christ, the source of all real and lasting love.

At the same time “Fifty Shades of Grey” is released, a group of theologians and pastors from the Augustine Institute will release “Beloved,” a video series on marriage renewal which families and parishes can study to learn God’s plan for joyful, loving marriages. It can be found at formed.org.

There are also many opportunities to encounter Christ, the source of real and lasting love, in the various ministries and apostolates in the Diocese of Lincoln. Our Office of Family Life and Evangelization provides opportunities for catechesis, formation, and discipleship for married couples. The Frassati Society provides an opportunity for the formation and discipleship of young adults.

There are ample opportunities for high school students to encounter Jesus Christ in the Diocese of Lincoln. Our retreat house offers the chance to find Christ in a retreat. Endow, and Godteens, and TEC, and dozens of other movements, are active in our parishes. In fact, our parishes are vibrant centers of Christian life, offering the freedom of Jesus Christ to everyone.

But the opportunities offered in the Diocese of Lincoln are only effective if those who need God’s love are invited to them. The task of every Catholic in our diocese is to invite neighbors and friends to participation in the Christian community of the Church. We need to build authentic friendships with those hungering for Christ, and in the context of those friendships, we need to witness to the source of everlasting love.

We’re hesitant, at times, to invite others to share our faith. But the popularity of movies like “Fifty Shades of Grey” demonstrates the urgency of evangelization. Every human heart was made to love and to be loved. Every married person desires real intimacy. Everyone desires the communion of friendship. The world will exploit those desires. Jesus Christ will honor and fulfill them.

Through the Holy Spirit, and through our love, may those hungering to know real and lasting love come to know the grace of Jesus Christ.

Bishop Conley

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