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Soul Mates, The Church and Catholic Dating

Flickr Image by: -JosephB-

“In the beginning, God created heaven, and earth. And the Lord God Said: It is not good for man to be alone: let us make him a help like unto himself. Then the Lord God cast a deep sleep upon Adam: and when he was fast asleep, he took one of his ribs, and filled up flesh for it.  And Adam said: This now is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man.” The Genesis account of the creation of man and woman is a story everyone knows. In the beginning all was good, but original sin stained us and left us seeking redemption from our shame.

I would like to mention that I am not a Saint, nor am I an authority in or on the Church or on love. What I am however is a man who has failed in many ways before God, but like Adam seeks redemption. In my history of failed relationships I would like to think I gained some wisdom, but that is for God to decide. Before I became Catholic I carried around some baggage of desire, and love that many of us do. I like to call this baggage “the great desire to find that perfect and all unifying other person”, that “helper” as described in Genesis. The older I get the more often I notice Catholics, Christians and other religious people believing in the simple notion that God or some other mystical force has set aside a perfect person for everyone, and our journey in life is to find them so that we may attain happiness. This is what most would refer to as a “Soul-Mate.” As innocent as this belief seems, many may think the idea of having a soul-mate is completely normal and a well thought of virtue. Unfortunately this is far from the truth. The soul-mate philosophy is actually a destructive and harmful process that more than likely will lead the individual away from God, but also prevent them finding a fulfilling relationship as narcissism starts to set in. I believe our culture is suffering from a sort of soul mate frenzy, which is leading to bitterness and hatred among the sexes, ourselves, and our culture as a whole.

320px-Feuerbach symposium

The term soul-mate comes from Greek Philosophy, specifically Platos Symposium, where Aristophanes proposes a theory on love. He presents a tale where humans had four arms, four legs, and a single two faced head. The story goes that Zeus feared the power of these humans and split them in half, thus condemning them to spend their lives searching for their other half. This theory was created during the joviality and drunkenness of the occasion and wasn’t meant to be taken seriously. The original basis for the term soul-mate comes from Pagan philosophy and completely leaves God out of the picture. Another philosophy of the soul-mate (Bashert) although in a different context also appears from Rabbinical Jewish literature from the Talmudic period, which started 200 years after the birth of Christ. The idea is that God has pre-ordained two individuals to marriage that will complement each other perfectly. Even though the idea of a Basherte (female) or Basherter (male) sounds nice, it is not reconcilable to the dogma that individuals were given free will by God to love or not to love. This same error is also seen in Calvinism’s doctrine of predestination. There may be other more modern ideas about what a soul-mate is, but these two philosophies essentially sum up the modern idea of what a soul-mate is; that we are on a mission to find happiness through a perfect companion. Some may use the term in the most basic sense to mean that a soul-mate is two souls of the opposite sex coming together who happen to be mates. This particular use of the word essentially tells us nothing and is a non-issue. Don’t get me wrong, most of us have an innate desire and longing to connect with another person but we must realize that as humans we are not perfect. The problems start when honest people start using the term soul mate as an emotional crutch. Some examples include, “I can’t live without you”, “you are perfect for me," "we are perfect for each other”, “we are destined to be together”, “our souls are joined together forever”, “our souls are inseparable”, “we understand each other like no other”, “we complete each other” or “I won’t be happy until I find my soul mate”, and this goes on and on. What would happen if your spouse died at a young age, or otherwise become disabled? Would you go seek someone else? What if you or your spouse doesn’t make it to heaven? What if your spouse has an affair in a moment of weakness or otherwise hurts you? These are all legitimate questions that need to be asked, and have been asked many times before throughout the history of the Church.

The magisterium of the Church doesn’t have much to say about the idea of a soul mate because it wasn’t an idea taught by tradition, scripture or by catechesis. Unfortunately the idea of a soul mate is popping up in Catholic circles everywhere. Some Catholic dating sites make their claim based on the idea of a soul mate. The Book How to Find your Soul Mate Without Losing your Soul by Catholic Answers Apologist Jason Evert is another such example. And yet another is the series of lectures, books and videos by Christopher West and his interpretations of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. Nakedness Without Shame and its counterparts focus heavily on having a perfect sexual union with your spouse disregarding many other aspects of the sacrament of Marriage. Although some of their points are indeed valid, and as much as I would like to congratulate them regarding their Catholic Ministries, their efforts could stand some vigorous re-working to ensure the audience isn’t using this as a platform to resurrect heresies and to sexualize the Church. When watching the lectures, I am always weary when the audience starts treating the speakers like superstars. What both of these individuals don’t seem to understand is that we are to be the masters of our emotions, not subverting them into a ecstatic desires. We will have all eternity to worship God in this manner in Heaven (assuming we get there) but here on earth we have a definite call to follow Christ and proclaim the Gospel. Despite these genuine attempts at correcting a society that are over-sexualized and over-selfish, we can make some assertions based on what we already know about marriage. We have free will, thus we are free to choose our spouse, for good or worse, which comes with baggage. We know that Saint Paul stated (paraphrased) “if you cannot control your faculties it is better for you to marry than to burn.” This God-given grace exists so that people can work and grow in their unity, and learn to temper their desires. From this statement it is reasonable to conclude that Marriage isn’t meant to be easy, and I suspect many married couples would agree with me on this regardless if they are Catholic or not. The Church teaches that sacrificial love is held in the highest esteem because it is the same love that Christ had for us. The idea of a soul-mate is at complete odds with this statement because it is based on emotional desire, perceived compatibility, and the idea that you aren’t complete. Christ sought many disciples to follow him, to leave behind their families and worldly desires, so that they could live and teach the Gospel. This is a great reflection of the sacrificial love Christ had for us, and what better way to show love than in this form. In Humanae Vitae we read that “marriage is a sacramental sign of grace for it represents the union of Christ and His Church.” It doesn’t say it is meant for the well-being or happiness’ of the couple which is certainly not guaranteed in marriage albeit being preached as such by certain Clergy. In light of this statement personal happiness is the end all and be all of what it means to have a soul-mate which is contrary to what many of the personal trials the Saints were. God, being represented as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, are three distinct entities serving three distinct purposes, doing so in a unified way. While a soul mate might best be represented as the ying and the yang symbol combined to make a circle, the Trinity can be seen as three separate entities working together for a common good, more like a rope with many strands. This characteristic is a basic function of marriage and the bond grows stronger when working in unity even if one of the members is weak. A soul is still a soul with all of its faculties, and is in no way incomplete even if it is only one strand. The Catechism and Catholic tradition also states that “In marriage God unites them in such a way that, by forming ‘one flesh’,[372].”. We aren’t told it is one soul, but one flesh. Even if the two souls become unified in marriage, they do not become one. The Church looks at marriage in the same way, and much of the symbolism revealed by God confirms this. You might say that two people come together in marriage for a common goal and do so in a unified way. These have traditionally been the rearing of children, for the mutual help of the spouses, and the remedy for concupiscence.

God, through the Church, has revealed that we have free will and He gave us the faculties to discern and pick an appropriate spouse. Even though God knows beforehand who we will pick, and would even guide us to the person who would be suitable for us, it is still our decision to make. To help with this idea, I have come up with the following analogy. You walk into a clothing store, and consider all the jackets and pants on the racks of different shapes, sizes, colours and styles. In your haste you decide on a suit because you like its hip and modern look, and everyone has one. Unfortunately, what the designer had in mind was meant for a person with a broad physique, and despite all the tweaking, you realize that this jacket is going to slip and slide all over you and just be awkward to move in. And to top it off, the fabric is itchy and it doesn’t match your complexion. You don’t want to waste a good suit so you make it work, but it isn’t going to be a pleasure wearing this thing! Although you did pick this suit, the retailer had another suit that was a better fit, and made for your physique, which is available in different colours and styles. This would have been a much better choice, despite the other available options. The tailor takes the suit, hems it, adjusting it to you. After a few years, it no longer fits because you have grown up or out! So you take it back to the tailor, and make some adjustments. I don’t know how many times I have bought ill-fitting clothes because there is nothing else available, but somehow I was able to still wear them. People who know me may laugh at this statement, but it is entirely true. In many ways this is like marriage, in that no matter how perfect something fits us at the start, things will always change, and we are to be diligent regarding those changes, for better or worse. There is a no return policy on marriage, so if you intend to get married be prepared to work on the relationship every single day, not just when you feel like it. When marriage is sought, the steps leading up to it should involve dating. I think dating is a means of discerning what is appropriate, and discernment is making a choice based on what God desires for us. If our discernment doesn’t involve prayer, then our chances of finding a spouse will likely fall short. Dating will help us learn about our potential spouse, if “we” can get along, if “we” are sufficiently mature, if the sacrificial aspects are in check, and if the two of us are willing to work together for the common goal of raising children (if the ability exists) and helping each other to reach Heaven. One way to destroy a potential spouse in a hurry is to jump in the sack or sexualize the relationship before marriage. This is the same as saying, “I am not in control of my desires and I seek immediate gratification.” If you are treating your dating partner like this, this will more than likely continue into the marriage. There is a mentality today that dating and marriage is about compatibility, feeling good and sexual compatibility. Unfortunately this usually leads to a fragmented family structure, and leads to divorce which ultimately leads to other social problems. The culture of “me”, “try before you buy”, “must please me” and “must be done now” is the dominant one, but these characteristics are the calling cards of the soul mate culture.

I remember a particular time in my life when I was discerning the Priesthood (which is no longer the case) and at one point I was mildly rebuked because I mentioned I wanted to sacrifice my life for the Priesthood. The response was that “it is not a sacrifice, it is a gift”. Although this is indeed true, the sacrificial element must not be swept away like a piece of dirt. Every day is not going to be full of joyful bliss, and to expect this shows an ignorance of what it means to serve God, be it the vocation of single life, religious life, or marriage life. Married life will bring many joys and sorrows, but one thing your spouse is not is a soul mate. To label them as such is a great disservice to them, as if they were such an object to fulfill your every desire and whim. The key to a lasting marriage is grace from God, prayer, penance, a lot of sacrifice. This has been the teaching of the Church for a very long time; but with the help of the Holy Family, we are hopeful to turn around our society and rid ourselves of the “soul mate culture”. Saint Joseph and Mother Mary, pray for us!