Before Karol Wojtyla was elected to pope and became John Paul II, he had already written what was arguably his greatest work. Let that sink in for a moment. The great saint who gave us fourteen encyclicals such as Ecclesia De Eucharistia, Fides et Ratio, and Evangelium Vitae had already written a work greater than perhaps all of his encyclicals put together. This book was entitled Love and Responsibility, and if you love reading (soon-to-be) Saint John Paul II's writings then you'll definitely want to check out this book.
I must admit that I feel ill-equipped to review Love and Responsibility. In fact, I've been at this book for months trying to parse through it and understand it to the best of my ability. A work like this requires multiple readings to begin to even comprehend all of the topics covered, and unfortunately, I was not able to devote my time to multiple readings. However, I appreciate the new translation and notes the translator, Grzegorz Ignatik, provided, as I believe I would have had an even harder time reading this work before the new translation. As a point of introduction, there are five main topics in this book:
The Person and the Drive
The Person and Love
The Person and Chastity
Justice with Respect to the Creator
Sociology and Ethics
The text is highly philosophical and contains copious footnotes from the translator. One should try not to get bogged down though and realize that Blessed John Paul was writing about what real human love is. As far as I can surmise from the text, we best find love when we give love ourselves. Also covered in this book is the the dignity of each individual and the "responsibility" portion of the title. Our society today has warped love, and people are used and discarded by other people. That is not how God intended love when he created man and woman. Therefore, we must not only be responsible with the love we give but the love we receive as well.
It's hard to pin down a section I could describe as my favorite, but I did have one that did stand out to me. Pope John Paul II states, "Although a second marriage after the death of a spouse is justified and permitted, it is nevertheless by all means praiseworthy to remain in a state of widowhood, for in this way the union with the person who passed away is, among other things, better expressed. After all, the very value of the person does not pass away and the spiritual union with him can and should continue, even when the bodily union has ceased." This is referred to in the book as absolute monogamy and something in which I firmly believe. Like this topic and many others in the book, I appreciate the fact that Pope John Paul II didn't shy away from truth.
I would love to tell you that Love and Responsibility is a book you can pick up and read one weekend and walk away feeling wiser and spiritually richer. On the contrary, it is a VERY challenging read. That is not to discourage you from reading this 5-star book. Quite the contrary. Anything worth understanding will take effort on your part. You will have to pore over this book and struggle to understand some points of it. The fruit it will yield you, though, will be all the sweeter. Pick this book up along with Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology Of The Body
, and you will have the two essential texts for seeing into the mind of the brilliant Saint John Paul II.
By Stuart Dunn