Growing up, I loved the idea of love, thanks to a steady diet of Disney magic and, later, romantic comedies. Fast-forward to college, and I realized my younger self’s concept of romance was little more than infatuation when compared to what it could really be.
St. Pope John Paul II introduced me to another view, and I fell in love with love for real.
My college boyfriend and I decided to attend a summer retreat in Allenspark, Colorado, where the pope stayed when he came to Denver for World Youth Day in 1993. On the outside, everything about our relationship looked happy and holy, but inside, I’d never felt more unrest. We disagreed over boundaries in our physical relationship, argued constantly while analyzing our relationship to death, and I think both of us just could never shake the intuition that loving someone shouldn’t feel quite so—well, hard.
That relationship wasn’t meant to be, but I absolutely believe I was meant to stay for nine days on that holy ground in the Rockies. Our retreat introduced me for the first time to Love and Responsibility, the book on sexual ethics and human dignity that John Paul wrote during his years as a cardinal. The person, he wrote, is meant to be loved, and things are meant to be used, yet so often we get it backward. His observations on romance, sacrifice, and the ways we stumble in them were like reading a narrative of my relationship with my boyfriend. As I came to see we were built on sand, I grew aware of a hunger, an ache, I hadn’t even realized dwelled in my soul: it was a longing for authentic love rooted in truth.
Months passed before I had the courage to end that relationship. All the while, though, I just couldn’t--and didn’t--want to put out the fire the pope had lit in my heart. I started reading all I could about his take on love, sex, and chastity, and was blown away by the complete freedom of it all. Here were the eternal, ancient truths of the Church, spoken in a language so immediate and insistent, so perfect for today’s culture. In my relationship, I’d been hiding so much from myself, my friends, and God. I was so ready to start living authentically and deeply. One of JPII’s personal mottos, duc in altum, calls upon Jesus’ exhortation to “put out into the deep.”
A few years later, while in a different relationship—the one in which I was engaged to the most sacrificial, creative, loving man I’d ever met—I found myself in a classroom in Black Rock, Pennsylvania on a Theology of the Body retreat with my coworkers. I was familiar with the pope’s series of audiences on creation, salvation, and the nuptial intimacy found in each vocation from a college study group, but had never delved deeply in.
For the second time in my life, everything I thought I knew about love fell away and was replaced with John Paul’s blazingly beautiful vision of the human person; of love as a complete and unrestrained gift of self. His words were literally life-giving, and awakened in me a desire to live out that self-gift in all of my relationships, most especially in the one I’d have with my husband-to-be: the relationship that would sanctify me and bring me to Christ. I found myself in tears reading the poetry of the Song of Songs and of Sarah and Tobias’ wedding prayer under this new lens.
Encountering this great saint’s writings and principles painted for me the clearest, most whole, most hopeful vision of life and love, and in doing so they painted an amazing vision of God’s love. I credit John Paul II more than any other human who’s walked this earth for showing me who I am. I say “showing me,” not “making me,” or some similar term, because John Paul himself lived in such humble awe of the fact that we are created in the Father’s image and likeness--the collection of his Theology of the Body talks are published under the title Man and Woman He Created Them for a reason.
The more I’ve grown in my spiritual life, the more convinced I’ve become that God unveils the most authentic version of you to yourself. Through the Theology of the Body and through John Paul II’s intercession and so many graces I don’t even deserve, I see the face of Love Himself.
I want that for you, too. That’s why Invited: the Ultimate Catholic Wedding Planner communicates not just all the practical, spiritual and organizational advice a bride could ask for, including a checklist to walk couples through the first steps after getting engaged, all the way to settling into newlywed life (thank-you cards, name changes, and all), a budgeting worksheet, Mass planning sheet, and sample invitation and program wording. Inspired by John Paul II, my book also contains a thick chapter on the authentic joy that’s found in loving your spouse freely, faithfully, totally, and fruitfully. Invited introduces Theology of the Body basics, explains why and how to pursue a chaste love--no matter where you’ve been in the past--and gets real about sex, Natural Family Planning, and the unique strengths and struggles of the male and female hearts. It’s all too good to keep to myself, and too directly related to the love of husband and wife to leave out of conversations about marriage.
So let’s talk. I’m so excited to share this book with you!
Stephanie Calis, author, Invited: The Ultimate Catholic Wedding Planner