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Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?

WEB Amy Winehouse 002

Jim Henderson

Edward Mulholland - published on 06/27/14

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.

“As an incarnate spirit, that is a soul which expresses itself in a body and a body informed by an immortal spirit, man is called to love in his unified totality. Love includes the human body, and the body is made a sharer in spiritual love” (Familiaris Consortio, 11).

What does the slang term “going all the way” mean if not a recognition that there is a totality involved in sex? There is an implicit idea that you can’t do more, you can’t give or receive more, from a bodily standpoint. I will spare you the plethora of songs I could name where this “give it all to me, baby” idea is present. But there is often a disconnect between the passion and desire for physical connectedness and the deeper yearnings expressed in the need for a love that is exclusive and everlasting.

In 1999, The Bloodhound Gang sang out “You and me baby ain’t nothin’ but mammals / So let’s do it like they do on the Discovery Channel.” It’s not like we expected more. The album is called Hooray for Boobies, the song is “The Bad Touch” and they are dressed in monkey suits in the video. And the truth is, they are completely correct — if indeed humankind is “nothin’ but mammals.” Truly human love, though, transcends merely animal love. So does, or should, human sex. It doesn’t take long for people to learn the hard way that they deserve more than a mating ritual.

Human body language is human language. It is “words unspoken.” And what do those words, those human words, say? “I’m the only one” is what Carole King was hearing. Sex says “You. And only You. Forever.”  If that is not what you meant say when you have sex, then you are lying. Straight up.

“Consequently, sexuality, by means of which man and woman give themselves to one another through the acts which are proper and exclusive to spouses, is by no means something purely biological, but concerns the innermost being of the human person as such. It is realized in a truly human way only if it is an integral part of the love by which a man and a woman commit themselves totally to one another until death. The total physical self-giving would be a lie if it were not the sign and fruit of a total personal self-giving, in which the whole person, including the temporal dimension, is present: if the person were to withhold something or reserve the possibility of deciding otherwise in the future, by this very fact he or she would not be giving totally.” (Familiaris Consortio, 11).

So much for “Hips Don’t Lie.” They apparently can and sometimes do. When you set up the dominoes like that, you can see that the Church’s teaching on so many issues is a constant affirmation of the “You. And only you. Forever” that sex is supposed to be saying. Masturbation? Nope, there’s no gift if there’s no other person. Homosexual sex? Nope, because it isn’t a total human self-giving if one’s fertility is not being offered. Contraception? Nope, the totality of your gift means your fertility can’t be shut down or blocked.

Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely” takes the cake as the most theologically correct song about childbirth this side of Christmas carols. “We have been heaven blessed / I can’t believe what God has done / Through us he’s given life to one / But isn’t she lovely made from love.” The album, one of pop music’s best, is 1976’s Songs in the Key of Life, and the song’s original version starts — and ends — with the cries of his newborn child whose name, Aisha, means “life.”

Now, we are all weak and sell ourselves short at times. The yearning to belong, even to feel that for a short time, may lead us to want to be lied to. “Lie to me. I promise, I’ll believe. Lie to me but please don’t leave” (Sorry, Sheryl Crow, anyone who does that is not “Strong Enough” to be your man). And letting oneself be lied to cuts across both genders. “Right now if you don’t love me baby — lie to me” (I had to get some Bon Jovi in there).

Rage against the Church all you want. Following her teaching on sex is the only way to be honest with ourselves and each other. Stray from it, and a deep need within will go unfulfilled.

I need to know that your love is a love I can be sure of.

Elton John said his favorite pop song was Bonnie Raitt’s 1991 “I Can’t Make you Love Me.” It is such a bittersweet song, and its bittersweetness stems from the fact that a total mutual gift cannot be one-sided. When only one partner means “You. And only you. Forever,” the sadness engenders the pure angst and soul-surrendering resignation distilled in this song, whose cords longingly lilt towards resolution. If “I’ll feel the power, but you won’t,” then what I am saying with my gift of self is not being heard. I am shouting into the darkness of incomplete acceptance. I know you won’t love me tomorrow.
I may choose to exercise my freedom and give of myself fully.

But the other person is also free. A mutual gift of self is not a one-sided choice. It is by definition the fruit of a shared choice. Respecting the freedom of the other person is integral to fully human love (thus sex procured via lies, money, drugs or violence does not rise to the level of fully human love). 

To desire this type of authentic human union, to declare one’s intention is to put one’s own self out there big time. It is spiritual nakedness before it is physical nakedness.  It is the height of human vulnerability.  As Billie Joel sings in “And So it Goes,” “I would choose to be with you / That’s if the choice were mine to make / But you can make decisions too / And you can have this heart to break.”

The choice is not only mine, or only yours. It must be a mutual decision. Before I give my whole self, “I need to know that your love is a love I can be sure of.” Do you want “Me. And only me. Forever”?

Carole King’s classic is a poetic proof of the Church’s stance on premarital sex. Before the “words unspoken” must come the spoken words that declare a mutual commitment, a mutual promise of a gift of self that will last forever.

The fact that this type of commitment is still desired even in a society that seems to reject traditional marriage is evidenced by John Legend’s “All of Me” hitting number one in recent weeks. (The beautiful woman in the video is in fact his wife, whom he married after seven years together. It makes the bed scenes somewhat better for him to have made but probably not much better for me to watch. However, the video ends with actual footage from their wedding, backed by nothing but glorious silence).

“All of me loves all of you.” Yes. Totally. And that "all" means my past present and future, all my strengths, and even the weaknesses I am striving to correct, as I also strive to love even your weaknesses (the song’s “perfect imperfections.")

Fully human love calls us to a very high standard. So conscious of our own weakness, we can almost despair at reaching such a height, even when we recognize our own need of it. Even from a purely natural standpoint, without the aid of revelation, I see in this a sign that points to marriage being not only a natural institution but needing to be elevated to a sacrament. God’s strength and God’s grace and God’s love need to be involved for our love to reach its perfection.

If you know yourself to be as weak as I know myself to be, then neither of our loves is truly a “love we can be sure of.” And yet, we are doubling down with our entire selves on our admittedly weak capacities to love each other. Want to know what you are really feeling with pre-wedding jitters? You’re peering into the gaping crevice in your own heart. You’re staring into the abyss of human limitedness — and it’s scary!

Before giving ourselves totally in the physical gift of sex, fully human love demands that we declare to each other and to the world our commitment to each other. All the better if, to honor this commitment and not break the heart of our beloved, we call down the blessing of God himself, the only love we can be fully sure of. He will set a seal on our heart. And our mutual self-gift will be fruitful in the healing of our own brokenness, as it also opens to new life.

The Church’s teaching on the true nature of human love rings true with the poets and prophets of our age on airwaves and iPods everywhere. It affirms the echoes within our own hearts, broken by sin and jaded by lowered expectations. God is love in an eternal present.

The only valid answer to “Will You Still Love me Tomorrow?” is to echo God’s answer, which is not “I will” but “I do.”

Edward Mulholland is Assistant Professor of Classical and Modern Languages at Benedictine College.

Tags:
CatholicismCeciliaLovePop MusicSexuality
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