Marriage and Celibacy: Love’s Link

Interview With Author Father José Manglano

By Miriam Díez i Bosch

MADRID, Spain, JAN. 14, 2008 ( Father José Pedro Manglano says history has shown that when marriages are in crisis, the vocation to celibacy also has problems.

The priest speaks of the link between matrimony and celibacy in his new book, “El Amor y Otras Idioteces: Guía Práctica Para No Perder a Quien Tú Quieres” (Love and Other Foolishness: A Practical Guide to Avoid Losing Your Beloved).

In this interview with ZENIT, Father Manglano explains what true love is, and how it can become eternal.

Q: A priest speaking about “love and other foolishness” — this attracts attention …

Father Manglano: How funny that you start there! That’s what everyone asks me …

Q: But I insist, it isn’t common …

Father Manglano: Quite true. It’s obvious that it’s something that attracts attention. But, why is it the first question that comes to mind? Perhaps what is being asked could be rephrased: What can a celibate have to say about love? As if it is taken for granted that one who opts to be celibate makes himself a stranger to the question of love.

It seems to me that this seemingly unimportant fact points to a situation clearly spelled out in Benedict XVI’s “The Salt of the Earth”: History shows that in the eras in which marriages are in crisis, celibacy is as well.

Q: Why does a celibacy crisis come along with a marriage crisis?

Father Manglano: Celibacy and matrimony, just as the Church suggests, are the two sublime ways of attaining a life in love. There are other forms of loving lives, yes, but no other sublime forms.

Today we are experiencing a certain crisis in marriage, and we are living a certain crisis in the meaning of celibacy. It is not understood that the celibate could be a lover and can know about love. Nevertheless, his life is a loving exercise directed toward the man Christ, and to all men and women, near or far away.

And not only that: The celibate Christian has an experience of God who is Love, and from him, he receives wisdom. If that doesn’t seem true, ask St. John of the Cross, whose canticle is a paradigm of any loving relationship.

Q: But your book speaks of the love between boy/girlfriend and spouses.

Father Manglano: The book is about the love of a couple, not of the celibate. But the love of a couple is love, and the nature of love, its stages, its crises and its sentiments … they have a lot in common.

And to avoid being abstract, I begin each theme with tremendous cases from contemporary literature, in order to analyze the ideas that underlie the various approaches to love that we see in our culture.

Q: Is marriage a burden that makes happiness difficult, as some people say? Or is it the wings to reach this utopia, as you say, and I could personally attest?

Father Manglano: For someone who understands marriage as a making official of a subjective relationship by which I associate myself with someone else, there is no doubt that getting married means taking on a burden. Marriage, in this case, limits my possibilities and doesn’t help anything.

However, for one who understands matrimony as the creation of a link that transforms me, marrying presupposes an act of liberty that brings about an “us,” an aid for accomplishing the free surrender of the me transformed by this union.

Q: Then, what is the true meaning of love?

Father Manglano: Love is the work of our liberty: not biology, but rather, freedom.

Involuntary attraction — “there’s chemistry,” we say — is transformed by liberty into voluntary union. Love means free union that began with the experience of attraction. Yes. Love is liberty, fulfillment of the person, the overcoming of solitude.

Q: In Christianity, it is said love is to give one’s life for one’s enemies. Is this possible?

Father Manglano: It demands a purification of the heart that is not easy. Christ can ask it of us because he gives us this [purification].

It is possible only in one who is transformed by the action of the Spirit. This behavior is given us, and then, and only then, can it be demanded.

Q: [There is a phrase in Spanish that says,] “He who truly loves you will make you cry. He who doesn’t truly love you will make you float.” Is love demanding, by definition?

Father Manglano: Perhaps our culture has a superficial outlook on marriage. It looks at the starting and ending points, but easily loses sight of all of the steps that need to be taken so as to complete this trajectory. Some steps come accompanied by pleasure and good luck. Others bathed in sweat; sometimes they suffocate laughter and other steps are made gasping for air …

To love is to bring about a formidable union that is not without cost: It’s about the exodus that carries one from eros to agape.

But love is also demanding with the other. It is not about making the other cry because of whims, but rather because of demanding his or her growth. It is not about making things difficult for the other, but about not fleeing from those difficulties that arise: He or she is presented with reality, and he or she is helped.

If one doesn’t like being with certain people, or if he or she prefers to be with me to get out of work, or if he or she tends to jealousy and control … these are situations in which he or she needs me to be able to confront them. Giving him or her my lenient compassion is not what’s best.

He loves badly, who, instead of being there while the other touches ground, helps her to live floating above reality, without confronting things.

Q: Why have we gone from believing in an “eternal love” to practicing an “ephemeral love”?

Father Manglano: Starting with Spinoza, philosophy has proposed a subjective love: Love will be a passion that awakens my happiness because of my relationship with a person with whom there is chemistry, as we tend to say.

Love will come as a sensation that I find in myself. Then, what I love when I say that I love is nothing distinct from myself. In that way, things, love lasts only as long as the sensation lasts. The moment the sensation disappears, or I wake up as a different person, that first love will have died, and on and on. Love understood in this way is necessarily ephemeral.

Nevertheless, other philosophies understand love as something objective: It is the free exercise of loving another person, of uniting myself to him or her.

The “you” is not an opportunity to feel like I’m in love, but rather the “you” is the motive for which I come out of myself to base myself on another vital center, which is the person of the beloved.

Love is “in relation to”: I come out of myself and go toward the one who gives to me. Then yes, it is possible to accomplish an eternal love, that is, after all, what all of us would like. As I have heard on repeated occasions from those who have several experiences of marriage: “The ideal would be that it last forever, but … it’s not easy. I’d like that, though.”

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