There is no trope more present in pop music than the kiss. And in fact my vocational journey to the Jesuits started with a kiss.
It was a sudden, tender kiss. It was a pure kiss, a true kiss. I remember it well because it left me hollow. It was meant to be beautiful, but it didn’t make me feel the way I thought it would make me feel.
At that moment, somehow, I realised that I was made for something more than romance with another person. I wanted love with God alone. Only God’s love was big enough to fill me. Later that night, when Taylor Swift came on the radio asking her lover to “take [her] somewhere we can be alone”, I followed her lead, communicating with God one on one in the sensual silence of prayer.
Theologically, Benedict XVI’s Deus Caritas Est assured me that such an interpretation of love for God is not foreign to the Church’s history. In the letter the pope reclaims eros. Properly understood, it is a “foretaste of the pinnacle of our existence, of that beatitude for which our whole being yearns”. The love of eros is the path described by the Carmelite mystics: it moves from purgation of misguided desire, through an illumination of knowledge, and ultimately to a divine-human union, instantiated in Christ.
“It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me,” writes St Paul in Galatians 2:20. This sort of language is the language of love, and you’ll find it all over the music of Taylor Swift, Selena Gomez and Ariana Grande. It is connatural to every human person’s experience of eros, a love which rises from the human to the divine. In the words of Evangelii Nuntiandi by Blessed Paul VI, we should strive to cultivate and evangelise these experiences “without in any way losing or sacrificing their human content but rather pointing to a transcendent dimension which is often disregarded”.
For Taylor Swift, Ours comes immediately to mind. The song is a powerful declaration of the endurance of love despite the disintegrating pressure of external forces. The instrumentation is soft and enchanting. Her voice calmly reassures her beloved that nothing will separate them. In the bridge she gently sings: “I’ll fight their doubt and give you faith with this song for you.” As I listen, I close my eyes in prayer. I hear God speaking those words to me, for many have criticised my decision to spend the whole of life in poverty, chastity and obedience. They tell me my faith is pointless. The voice of the evil spirit is real and strong, but God’s voice – like Taylor’s – is unreservedly assuring and stronger. Ours is like a psalm that captures the experience of faithfulness amid the trials of the human-divine relationship.
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