Love and Responsibility taking universities by storm

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In 1954 Hugh Hefner bought a centre-fold of Marilyn Monroe from a local calendar printer. Fourteen years later the sexual revolution reached its apex. Despite the fact that 17 million viewers watch each episode of Two-and-a-half-men in the U.S. an increasingly large number of university students have been taking the road less travelled by exploring a book written in 1960 that thought Hefner had missed the point….

The interview below was conducted with Bernard Toutounji from the Life, Marriage and Family Centre of the Archdiocese of Sydney.

Can you briefly explain the history and current success of the Love and Responsibility phenomenon?

Love and Responsibility was written by Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II) over 50 years ago when he was an unknown bishop in communist Poland. The book looks into the matter of human love and relationships, not through the lens of faith, but through an in depth study of the human person as a subject who must always be loved and never used. Around this understanding of the human person the future Pope built a total vision of love and shows how adultery, premarital sex and contraception are actually incompatible with the desires of the heart. Love and Responsibility forms the basis on which was built the better known Theology of the Body, also of Pope John Paul II, however as brilliant as his writings are, they can be somewhat dense for the first time reader.

A few years ago a book came out by Edward Sri titled Men, Women and the Mystery of Love which attempted to break down Love and Responsibility into practical and manageable sections around the ideas of friendship, attraction, love and chastity. The author included at the end of each chapter discussion questions and suggested that the book be used in small group study, and it seems a renewed Love and Responsibility phenomenon was born! Discussion groups began to spring up around the United States including one in New York city which was attracting around 200 people each week to study Sri’s book.

We have to admit then that the idea to begin Love and Responsibility in Sydney discussion group was shamelessly stolen from Love and Responsibility in New York City. We have targeted the event at university students and young adults and we have been getting around 150 young adults each week as move through chapter by chapter.

Tell us about one moment that really stands out for you so far.

When we were planning the event there were obvious questions whether the format of the New York style event would work here in Australia. After all, there is no main talk and there is no main speaker. Each week we read together one chapter of the book, <then break into small discussion groups for 30 minutes and conclude with a whole group ‘open mic’ session for 30 minutes. The worry was that Australian youth were not as willing to share publicly their thoughts and feelings as their American counterparts. We were also concerned about how the open mic session would work and if it would get bogged down in difficult theological questions.

The first session however was amazing! 150 young adults showed up and they were ready to share and engage. The small group discussions buzzed with good questions and thoughts and the large open mic session had everyone sit in one large circle while ideas and questions were tossed around. And it wasn’t the ‘usual crowd’ doing the talking, these were people from all sorts of backgrounds and ages with one common goal, to better understand the mysteries of love and relationships. What stands out was the thirst by young adults to really talk about love in depth, not just accept what is commonly sold as love, but to stop and ask “where is the genuine love my heart desires”?

Love and Responsibility – there is a lot of meaning in that title itself. What do you think the author wanted to communicate by that choice?

Exactly those words, that love and responsibility must always go hand in hand; love as the practical decision to give of oneself to another and responsibility as the acknowledgment requires a growing realisation of ourselves and others especially in marriage. It might seem odd that such a book would have been needed 50 years ago in a socially conservative nation under communist rule but as Karol Wojtyla writes in Love and Responsibility, the sexual relationship provides more opportunities than most others for people to use one another. As fallen human beings we have a natural tendency to be selfish and this propensity can find its way right into our lives as married, and as single people. For the single person, his or her dealings with those around them will mirror how they will live out a married life. Married people should use the privilege of their marriage to ever improve themselves and increase in generosity of heart. No one wakes up in the morning with a desire to be more selfish than the day before but if we are not on our guard, a self-centred heart can very easily creep into all aspects of our lives.

Love and Responsibility was first published in 1960. What possible relevance could a book published over 50 years ago by a Polish academic have for inner city urban youth?

The questions of friendship, love and sexuality are timeless because they have to do with the innermost desires of every heart. Some might also add to the question, what can we learn today from what a celibate Polish academic published over 50 years ago! The truth is we can learn a lot. Karol Wojtyla wrote his book not for the sake of academia but from the fruit of his pastoral experience. He sat through confessions and heard the joys and the woes of so many people, he instructed and worked with young people who had all the same questions that young people do today. Wojtyla spent a lifetime dedicated to the questions of the human heart and he stood on the shoulders of the giants who went before him. Especially today, when people are so disconnected from a familial and spiritual heritage, Wojtyla connects us together as one human family all essentially headed towards the same goal.

What do you think young people are looking for when they come to a Love and Responsibility gathering?

They are looking for an opportunity to learn and to share. So often we think that we are the only people in the world who have experienced a particular problem or hurt but the truth is you don’t have to dig very deep to see that isn’t true. Sometimes when I am driving in the evening I listen to one of those love song dedication radio shows because I find the stories of those who call in fascinating. So many of them are carrying such pain, they have got themselves into all sorts of life problems but whatever situation they are in the desire is there, to love and to be loved. It is a beautiful reality to know that there are 6 billion people on this earth who all desire the same thing. I wish we could pass out some advice from Love and Responsibility on that radio show!

The sexual revolution of 1968 has had seismic impacts on culture at multiple levels. How do you think Love and Responsibility could provide a theory and possible praxis for change?

I think that as the world seems to get more lost and more hope-less, the message of truth “sells” so much better because people don’t just think there is a need for it, they know deep in their being there is a need for it! Love and Responsibility can provide a new direction because it is not about telling anyone to do anything, it is about asking each of us to consider who we are and to consider what our deepest desires are. The other aspect of Love and Responsibility is that it is not a theological work; it is a philosophical one, meaning that its findings are not based on the teachings of the faith but on human reason, and in the age of ‘reason’ that approach is most needed. We must recall that leading people to the pursuit of truth is always a good thing, as St Edith Stein once said “All those who seek truth, seek God, whether this is clear to them or not”.

Complete this sentence, Love and Responsibility is….

a phenomenal book that everyone should read because it will help them to understand themselves and those who they love in a deeper and more authentic way.


What do you think that the success of Love and Responsibility is telling us despite the impact of the sexual revolution?

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  • A website that attempts to convey the message of Love and Responsibility with photographs.

    • Jonathan Doyle

      Thanks John…your website would be a good tool for some of our readers.

  • Ewa

    Group work based on Love and Responsibility seems like a timely and effective initiative capable of meeting the learning edge of participants whilst fulfilling the evangelising mission of the church. In my experience the deepest learning about faith happens through dialoguing the personal questions which are important to the learner with sound understanding of what it means to be human. I think Love and Responsibility mediates those important personal quandaries about love, friendship and sexuality in the context of popular culture.

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Going Deeper is a weekly online staff formation formation program in Catholic identity and Catholic teaching on education. It inspires, educates and challenges every Catholic teacher to deepen in their personal faith and knowledge of Catholic teaching so they can fulfil their noble vocation within the great mission of Catholic education.