There is a quote that has come up a number of times in these reflections. It is from Saint Augustine: “Love, and do what you will.” We have seen that it has been used to justify a very legalistic and minimalistic understanding of morality, in which the whole of the ethical life is flattened down to a single rule that needs to be followed in order to avoid sin, but in which a wide scope for following one’s own whims and pleasures is given. The basic presupposition here, however, is that a rule, of whatever kind, is inherently limiting, inherently constricting, and causes the human heart to itch and fret under an arbitrary yoke imposed upon its liberty.
This attitude indeed permeates our culture on all levels, and, as we have seen, particularly when it comes to the sexual sphere. There is a basic attitude: “I can’t do this, but I can do anything else.” And yet even to pose the question this way is already to have missed the boat. The discussion around things such as foreplay and sodomy and other sexual acts usually goes something like this: “Well, you know, there are many different valid opinions about these things, and some people find them repulsive and some people are attracted to them. So we can’t impose a rigid position on everybody. There is room for valid theological pluralism here, and the right for each person to navigate their own sex life. After all, the Church has never (supposedly) explicitly condemned these acts as inherently and intrinsically wrong. So perhaps if people experience them as an act of love, then they are good for them, whereas for other people, they would be out of place.”
This relativistic “dialogue”—which is really no dialogue, for dialogue, to be authentic, must be an ardent pursuit of the truth—goes so far at times that intellectuals who specialize in sexual ethics are willing to write blurbs on the back of books whose basic position they disagree with. This is a scandal to many, and causes confusion in many hearts. The same is indeed true for how, essentially, a true dialogue never really matures. One party, the more supposedly “open,” who propagate or at least allow the possibility of such acts as I have spoken against above, are criticized for speaking flippantly and with irreverence about the sacredness of the sexual sphere, and losing sight of the authentic meaning and beauty of the sexual embrace in the sight of God. But the reply often comes back, “Give me some concrete criticisms. What is it in what I have said that is wrong?” But the fact is that the fundamental paradigm is often wrong.
The problem lies in the fact, as has hopefully become radiantly apparent in previous reflections, that some approach the whole ethical life with the questions of “ought” or “ought-not,” “may” or “may not,” whereas others approach it with the question of, “Where is the beauty, the goodness, the truth, and how can I respond to this as deeply and totally as possible?” The first is a fundamentally legalistic understanding, a minimalistic understanding that, because it is legalistic and the law is seen as a hindrance, is perpetually seeking for loopholes or for the minimum necessary. The second, however, is ravished by beauty, by objective value, and yearns to be drawn ever deeper into a living contact with this beauty, to live in a ceaseless and living dance with the breathtakingly beautiful truth and goodness of reality. The first, in a word, is an attitude in which man and woman look fundamentally at themselves. The second is an attitude in which the person, touched and drawn out in an ecstasy of love and longing, looks ceaselessly upon the beauty of the beloved—both human and divine—and also, in this very ecstatic gaze, continually receives reflected back, in the ceaseless gaze of perfect Love that ever upholds and cradles each person, the experience of their own unique beauty and identity, sheltered and set free by the perfect affirming love and knowledge of the supreme Lover.
Yes, and when one’s eyes are fixed upon oneself, or upon the other person in their capacity to reflect back oneself or to give one pleasure and comfort (however subtly), then one remains in the paradigm of original sin, in the realm of pleasure-seeking, possessiveness, and pride. And thus the heart remains ultimately enclosed, isolated, and alone, narrowed by its own grasping possessiveness. The very beauty that God created in this world, the very ravishing goodness of creation, of man and woman, and of the sexual sphere itself, is seen not with an attitude of reverent amazement, but rather with an attitude of possessive lust. Ah, but the attitude of reverent amazement! What happens when the heart lets itself be touched in this way! What happens when the heart allows itself to be ravished by eternal Beauty, Goodness, and Truth…by the very Love of the Trinity present and at work in creation, present and at work in the very heart of human love and intimacy, and drawing all towards its perfect consummation in the life of total communion shared eternally by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!
Let me therefore ask: how can we get beyond this dilemma between these two paradigms? Or rather, how can we get beyond the tension between a paradigm of constricting legalism or a libertarian striving, and instead immerse ourselves in the living and life-giving truth that alone gives meaning to all things, that alone brings true freedom? The only answer is to let ourselves be drawn back to the heart. The only answer is to let one’s heart be gripped anew, with reverent awe and joyful surrender, by the breathtaking beauty of love and intimacy. It is only here, grasped by love and by love possessed, that the true fulfillment of the beautiful words of Saint Augustine can ring true: “Love, and then do what you will.” Yes, really love, authentically love, totally love…love until everything that you are is totally love… Or rather, allow God to love you so deeply, to pour himself into you so totally, that the gratuitous gift of his own life of love, his own intimacy as Trinity, becomes the very inner “law” of your existence.
But this is not a law, not a rule imposed from without that would limit my actions and constrict me from doing what I want to do. Rather, it is simply the living and loving Reality for which I was created. It is the One who is perfect Love, or, rather, the Three who are perfect Love and Intimacy, from whom the whole of creation has flowed, in whom it is ceaselessly held, and into whom it is all returning. Yes, it is simply the very presence of the perfect Lover alive in my heart and my life; it is the throbbing heartbeat of the Trinity poured out into me, touching me, holding me, and healing me spontaneously within the ceaseless dance of eternally playful love and ever reverent communion between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
This is the Law that surpasses all laws, since it is indeed no law at all, but simply the ravishing Beauty of eternal Love, the everlasting Goodness of perfect Communion, the complete Truth of all Being. Yes, this is the innermost circulation of the life of the Trinity, their eternally loving dance of love and intimacy, drawing me from the periphery, from the fragmentation in which, so far from the center, many rules and regulations are indeed necessary in order to prevent me from hurting myself and others. Instead, it allows me to rest in the center, in the place where all is radiant and clear in the utter simplicity of a single gaze of contemplative love, reverent amazement, and joyful surrender. It allows me to abide in the convergence point where the beauty of the Trinity’s love and intimacy is the inner essence of all things and their perfect fulfillment, this gratuitous gift causes my whole being to flower in authentic love and intimacy. And then, indeed, no more external rules are necessary to “limit” my freedom; rather, any and all rules and explanations are simply crystallizations of this one gift, and are seen, not as limiting freedom, but as, in all truth, already being contained within the perfect freedom of God and indeed already being super-fulfilled in the very place where the heart, touched by Love and by Love possessed, spontaneously and freely does what is beautiful, good, and true…
In other words, love alone, surpassing the law, also fulfills it. For love is the very eternal life of the Trinity, and nothing, nothing exists in this world that does not find its ultimate origin in God, and in him also find its full consummation. Thus, the heart that loves has already entered into the realm of liberty, the true “liberty of the children of God” that is our birthright, that is our life and our joy as little children adopted into the family of the Trinity and incorporated into the very filial intimacy of the Son with his heavenly Father, into the very inner mystery of filial, spousal, and parental love that permeates all of creation and is lifting up the whole of creation into its definitive consummation in the innermost heart of the Trinitarian embrace.
This is where true freedom resides: in the person who lives and breathes and thinks and acts, in every slightest stirring of the heart and in every movement of body, mind, affectivity, and soul, in love and for love alone, in the ever flourishing beauty of intimacy between human persons and God and, in God, in the intimacy between human persons and one another. After all, in the end this is all that will remain: pure love and intimacy within the innermost embrace of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.