Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Choice of Gifts

Come Valentine's Day, come the advice—only half joking—to men. Don't give her a vacuum. Don't give her exercise equipment. (Not even those Nikes you brilliantly found on sale—leave them on the shelf. LEAVE THEM THERE. Thank you.) Don't give her kitchen gadgets—no, not even if she likes cooking. In fact, don't give her anything remotely practical, even if she says she likes practical gifts. Nothing says "I love you forever" like something that is going to be dead in a week or eaten in in hour. That may not sound romantic, but it is. Love, eating, and death are blood relatives—just ask an Italian opera singer.

The obvious value of most perishable gifts is that they require a sacrifice on the part of the giver and promise zero in utilitarian returns. The vacuum you gave her will be used by her to clean your room. The Nikes will keep her skinny for you. The kitchen gadgets will make you fat, via her cooking. The flowers and chocolate aren't going to get you anything at all—not anything tangible, anyway.

So stay away from the vacuums. Don't even think about the USB key. Leave the contraceptives on the shelf.

Yes, the contraceptives. Consider. In the secular world, how are most couples, married or unmarried, going to end their dates tonight? And how many of them are going to take the chance of spoiling their pleasure by risking a pregnancy? Indeed. So I am going to make an educated guess and say that the most common perishable gift given on today's holiday by either of the two sexes to the other is ... contraception.

We are long past the days of being outraged by this probability. If it provokes any reaction at all, that is most likely because of recent political events (the onerous original HHS regulations and the equally egregious "compromise" regulations, and the surge of an anti-contraception presidential candidate). We know contraception is wrong, but we have lost part of the instinctive revolt against it—the same instinct that led one old lady I know to refer to certain types of sexual misdemeanors as "throw-up sins." We have been desensitized. Our hearts may not be hardened, yet, but our emotions have grown stale. We have forgotten the enormity of married love.

When we love our parents or our siblings or our friends we love them incompletely. We want the best for them, we admire them, and we enjoy them; we give them much, but we do not give them everything: we do not give them ourselves. That gift of self is reserved for one person and one person only: Christ; and we give it to him in one of two ways: directly, when we consecrate our lives to him, or indirectly, when we consecrate our lives to another person, a person who becomes for us not merely another Christ (as all people are) but the other Christ. Whatever you do to your spouse you do to Him; whatever you give your spouse you give to Him; and whatever you withhold from your spouse, you withhold from Him.

If you're not scared yet, you should be.

In the same way, whenever you accept a gift from your spouse you accept it from Christ; and whenever you turn down a gift from your spouse, you turn down a gift from Christ.

But—the secularists cry—are children really a gift from Christ? Oh, I know Christians say they are—but does anyone really think so? They're inconvenient at best and tragic at worst; little bits of your own life that toddle at first and later slouch around in ridiculous and myopic ingratitude.

That's just it, though. They're little bits of your own life—or—more than that; better than that: they're lives of their own, lives that you in some still mysterious way made to be. They are your creations. They are living proof that you are, in spite of your flaws and mistakes and absurdities, like God.

Strange and ironic, isn't it? We Catholics sometimes accuse the secularists of playing God in the bedroom, when in fact they're staying as far away from playing God as possible, stifling the one thing in them that really is immortal, the one part of them that links them most closely to the divine.

We all bear the image of God, and when we love another person in truth, we love them according to the part of that image which they bear before us: our fathers because they mirror of the Fatherhood of God; our teachers because they mirror Wisdom of God; our friends because in their particular virtues they mirror God's attributes; and our spouses because ...

Because towards us they mirror that attribute of God by which we first know Him, that characteristic that defines of our primary relationship with God: His creative love, the love that brought us into being.

You, my secular friend, may think that contraception spares your "loved one" pain; and you are right. It spares your loved one the parental equivalent of this:

It also denies your loved one the human equivalent of this:

Talk about opportunity costs.

So on St. Valentine's Day, you can tell that significant other: "Yes, I see you as a lovely person, quite attractive, and a lot of fun." If that's what you feel like saying, go ahead and give them the gift of contraception.

Alternatively, you could say to him or her, "I know no one who is like you. You have a power over me that no one else has. I would trust you with my life, and the lives of those whom I will hold most dear, because I believe that you are worthy of such trust. I come to you with fear and trembling, because to me, you are like God."

It's your choice.

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