Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Letters on Love from Father Karol Wojtyla

In 1950, during his time as a university chaplain and priest at St. Florian's church, Father Karol Wojtyla established the first marriage preparation program in the history of the Archdiocese of Kraków, as well as one of the first in the world. Before then, most marriage "preparation" consisted of a meeting or two with a priest, and that mostly to discuss the ceremony itself. However, as George Weigel reports in Witness to Hope, Fr. Wojtyla "set out to create a pastoral program that systematically prepared young couples for Christian marriage and family life through religious reflection, theological education and a frank exploration of the practical and personal difficulties and opportunities of married life and child rearing." (p. 97)

In addition, a network of friendships formed around Fr. Wojtyla. He called this active social group of young people his Rodzinka (little family). Members called him "Wujek" (uncle), partly out of affection and partly because calling him "Father" in public might arouse the suspicions of the state secret police. Some of these young men and women fell in love and later married. Others simply sought the counsel of Fr. Wojtyla. One of these was Teresa Heydel, who exchanged letters with him on the question of love.
December 1956

Dear Teresa,
People like to think that Wujek would like to see everyone married. But I think this is a false picture. The most important problem is really something else. Everyone...lives, above all, for love. The ability to love authentically, not great intellectual capacity, constitutes the deepest part of a personality. It is no accident that the greatest commandment is to love. Authentic love leads us outside ourselves to affirming others: devoting oneself to the cause of man, to people, and, above all, to God. Marriage makes sense...if it gives one the opportunity for such love, if it evokes the ability and necessity of such loving, if it draws one out of the shell of individualism (various kinds) and egocentrism. It is not enough simply to want to accept such love. One must know how to give it, and it’s often not ready to be received. Many times it’s necessary to help it to be formed.
- Wujek
The following month, Fr. Wojtyla wrote another letter to her about the nature of love and the human person.
January 1957

Dear Teresa,
Before I leave for Warsaw, I have to tell you a few things (think together with you): (1) I don’t want you ever to think this way: that life forces me to move away from the perspective of something that is better, riper, fuller, to something that is less good, less mature, less attractive. I am convinced that life is a constant development toward that which is better, more perfect — if there is no stagnation within us. (2) After many experiences and a lot of thinking, I am convinced that the (objective) starting point of love is the realization that I am needed by another. The person who objectively needs me most is also, for me, objectively, the person I most need. This is a fragment of life’s deep logic, and also a fragment of trusting in the Creator and in Providence. (3) People’s values are different and they come in different configurations. The great achievement is always to see values that others don’t see and to affirm them. The even greater achievement is to bring out of people the values that would perish without us. In the same way, we bring our values out in ourselves. (4) This is what I wanted to write you. Don’t ever think that I want to cut short your way. I want your way.
- Wujek
These ideas of love as gift, part of Karol Wojtyla's "personalist" ethic (which emphasizes respecting and loving others as "persons," and not using them as if they were "things," as is the case in utilitarianism), can be seen in The Jeweler's Shop and in Love and Responsibility, as well as in his later papal teachings. As Weigel summarizes in Witness to Hope, "This 'Law of Gift' was built into the human condition, he argued philosophically. Responsible self-giving, not self-assertion, was the road to human fulfillment. Wojtyla posed it not only as an ethic for Christians, but as a universal moral deman arising from the dynamics of the human person, who is truly a person only in relationship. A genuinely human existence was always coexistence, a meeting with others wisely." (pp. 136-37)

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