Love songs make the case for Catholic sex.
I just listened to Amy Winehouse’s cover of Carole King’s classic, “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” It was one YouTube click away from a cover of the same song by The Voice UK 2014 semi-finalist Sophie May Williams. I’ve always loved that song. It is interesting to me that many new artists cover it. I was reared on Carole King, but my personal favorite is Roberta Flack’s version from her album Quiet Fire — the one where her afro on the cover was about as big as the LP record. Yeah, I’m getting old.
On a rain soaked October morning in Central Park, my wife of one month and I saw Roberta Flack sing “Amazing Grace.” She wasn’t headlining that day, though. She, together with Natalie Cole and Placido Domingo, were opening for then-pope John Paul II. The Holy Father’s homily said, "this is New York! The great New York! This is Central Park. The beautiful surroundings of Central Park invite us to reflect on a more sublime beauty: the beauty of every human being, made in the image and likeness of God.”
I can say the same about the beauty of that Carole King song. I think that song and many pops songs articulate the deep natural truths of the Catholic Church’s position on human sexuality.
“Tonight your’re mine, completely…”
We all yearn to belong to someone, with the totality of who we are. We long to belong to someone, completely. And yet, there is a tension between completely and tonight, because part of who we are is our temporal dimension. To belong to someone completely — not just for tonight, but my past, present and future must belong to them.
When I taught high school religion classes, I lectured about love before speaking about sex. If we see the Church’s teaching as only matter of “don’ts” about sex, we miss the point. It is a matter of certain “do’s” about love, which yield dues about love. I explained that the fullness of human love means “You. And only you. Forever.” Every teenager I ever taught saw that clearly. The exclusive and everlasting nature may be an obstacle for some modern thinkers, but not to young people who are experiencing the pangs of love for the first time. And certainly not for the music industry.
Love songs are always about the unique nature of the person loved. You can think of your own examples I’m sure, that would span genres and generations. To keep it in the last twenty years, “Hey Leonardo (She Likes Me for Me)” comes to mind from the 90’s (by the aptly titled band Blessed Union of Souls), all the way to a contemporary Canadian band, My Darkest Days, where the girl is loved because she looks at him “Like Nobody Else.” True love is exclusive: You. And Only You.
Forever. That unique love that highlights the unicity of each person is called to be an “Everlasting Love” (Robert Knight, Gloria Estefan, U2, and more). When that fails, we get the cascade of heartbreak songs, where one wants no more of love “If I can’t have you, I don’t want nobody baby,” or is sent looking elsewhere “Nevermind, I’ll find someone like you.” For those wanting some contemporary R&B, J-Lie’s complaint is “You took our forever and ever away.”
When the exclusive (cheating) or everlasting (breakup) nature of love fails, the conclusion is simple. The love wasn’t real, wasn’t true. It wasn’t authentically human love. It wasn’t the fullness we somehow know we are called to.
“Tonight with words unspoken, you say that I’m the only one…”
Total belonging comes from a mutual total self-giving. I belong to you when you accept me saying “I am yours.” You belong to me when I accept your offering of “I am yours.” And to love this way, it cannot be total if it isn’t body and soul.