by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
Are you tired of being subjected to Viagra and Cialis commercials while watching almost any sports event on television?
Many parents have expressed to me how much they resent having to change the channels or the mute the sound during commercial breaks for football, basketball and/or baseball games. They do not think the NFL and drug companies should determine at what age and in what context they speak to their children about the physical, emotional, moral and spiritual dimensions of their sexuality.
While we know there were actually three St. Valentines, all of whom are venerated as martyrs, we do not have any reliable historical evidence about the details of their lives. We do know that there was an ancient Christian church in Rome dedicated to St. Valentine, a priest, who was martyred in the mid-third century. One of the legends about this priest martyr was that he was imprisoned and eventually executed for secretly witnessing the weddings of Christian couples and attempting to protect them from Roman persecution. In France and England during the 14th century, we find the first evidence of this feast being associated with expressions of romantic love.
A feast for St. Valentine no longer exists in the church’s liturgical calendar because of the lack of good historical evidence about the details of his life. Ironically, it has become a huge secular holiday that encourages expressions of love. In fact, for married couples or couples who are dating, some expression of love is expected, if not actually required.
Marriage Encounter has promoted a Sunday close to Feb. 14 as World Marriage Day, a time to celebrate the importance and beauty of marital love. Bishop Finn and I will celebrate a Mass for all married couples from Kansas and Missouri on Sunday, Feb. 8, at 2 p.m. at Curé of Ars Parish in Leawood. During the Mass, couples will have the opportunity to renew their marital vows.
This year, around Valentine’s Day, two movies portraying love quite differently will debut in theaters across the nation. “Fifty Shades of Grey” is based on a trilogy of books that glamorizes a relationship in which a young woman signs a contract to become a sex slave for a very successful businessman. “Fifty Shades of Grey” portrays positively a relationship that includes bondage, domination and sadomasochism.
The books have been wildly popular, selling 100 million copies worldwide. Despite the fact that “Fifty Shades of Grey” portrays a woman who is abused and required to be submissive, the books have appealed especially to women.
I have not read the books and have no intention of seeing the movie. Having listened to an interview of the author and examined numerous reviews, it is evident that “Fifty Shades of Grey” is pornography wrapped in a romantic story line. In a culture already saturated with pornography, what makes this movie stand out as particularly offensive and disturbing is its glamorization and popularization of sexual behaviors that are both twisted and degrading.
The second film is entitled “Old-Fashioned.” From watching the trailer, reading several reviews and listening to an interview with the author/producer on Catholic radio, I surmise that “Old-Fashioned” attempts to depict the beauty, as well as the complexity, of a romantic relationship in the current cultural milieu. This couple is determined to respect each other, as well as to avoid the superficiality of the current dating scene. The film attempts to portray how authentic love draws us out of ourselves, helps to heal past wounds and makes us better persons.
Pornography is portrayed as a victimless vice. It is not. Pornographic use is the fastest growing addiction. It undermines marriages, stunts the capacity for healthy relationships of users, diminishes productivity at work and becomes a form of idolatry — attempting to satisfy our natural longing for God with self-absorbed pleasure.
Children are being robbed of their innocence by being exposed to pornographic images at very young ages. Young women, in particular, are manipulated into becoming involved with the production of pornography. These so-called porn stars have alarmingly high rates of depression, drug addiction and suicide. Those using pornography are complicit in the tragic impact that it has upon so many lives, including their own.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is preparing a pastoral statement, scheduled to be released this year, describing the profound social costs of pornographic use, providing practical assistance to parents on how to protect their children and families, and giving information for those struggling to liberate themselves from pornographic addiction.
I have encouraged our pastors during Lent this year to take advantage of the new My House materials developed by our office for marriage and family life to raise awareness of the problem of pornography, to acquaint parishioners with the resources available to protect children and families, to offer help and healing to those struggling with this sin and to present the beauty of our church’s teaching on human sexuality.
I resent the term “adult entertainment” to describe pornographic movies. Certainly, it is not something children should see, but it is not something that is healthy for adults either. The phrase “for mature audiences only” is an oxymoron. Pornography preys on our frailty and wounds.
I implore you not to become part of the problem by patronizing a film like “Fifty Shades of Grey.” If you want to take in a movie around Valentine’s Day and make a positive statement to the film industry, go see “Old-Fashioned.” If you want to do something to strengthen your marriage, come to the World Marriage Day Mass at Curé of Ars. If you want something that is aimed at mature audiences, visit the Theology of the Body Institute website and take advantage of its materials about the beauty and wonder of our human sexuality. If you want to do something for extra credit, write or email the National Football League, Major League Baseball, and National College Athletic Association and tell them you are tired of and offended by the Viagra and Cialis ads.