But when sex is divorced from love there is a feeling that one has been stopped at the vestibule of the castle of pleasure; that the heart has been denied the city after crossing the bridge. Sadness and melancholy result from such a frustration of destiny, for it is the nature of man to be sad when he is pulled outside himself, or exteriorized, without getting any nearer his goal.
Fulton Sheen, Three To Get Married
There is something wonderfully poetic about the way Fulton Sheen writes. If you’ve ever had one of those pre-marital “oh my goodness, can’t we just be married nowwwwww???” moments, you’ll know exactly what Sheen writes about is true. As Billy Joel would say, “We didn’t start the fire…no, we didn’t light, it but we tried to fight it.” We may not have started the fire, or maybe we did, but when we reach that point, the edge of that cliff, the point of no return, we often find ourselves frustrated. Staring out over the edge of that cliff, we have a choice to make: turn around or jump off. In those moments of passion the choice isn’t always that clear, especially when everything in us wants to give in. We’ve been granted entrance to the vestibule of the castle, but denied entry into the fullness of the castle.
The great beyond of that cliff has been referred to as the locked garden, the depths of our heart, the beauty beyond the veil, and many other things. Sheen’s metaphor of the castle and the city are quite fitting. When we push those boundaries we see the beauty of the castle, the splendor of the city, and yet we are locked out. We cross the threshold and yet are denied any further entrance. Even if we choose to jump off that cliff together, we will still find that we are locked out because sex outside of marriage isn’t how God intended it to be. Sex outside of marriage – or even pushing the boundaries of purity of heart and of body – is grasping at straws, reaching for commitment, only to come up empty-handed and broken-hearted.
What happens when we see the castle of pleasure or the city of wonder is what C.S. Lewis describes when he talks about beauty, we want “to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.” This inclination to pass into the beauty, to become part of it is natural. In fact, it is good. God created us that way, but when we divorce our natural inclinations from God’s plan for love, honor, chastity, and commitment, we find ourselves frustrated, outside of ourselves, and further from the goal than when we began. Pushing the bounds of purity and chastity, granting ourselves permission to cross the bridge or enter the vestibule of the castle, doesn’t actually get us closer to our goal. Our goal in love is not merely pleasure, though pleasure is certainly a part of love. Our goal in love, the very definition of love, is to will the good of another. Asking for or granting entrance to the vestibule outside of marriage isn’t willing the good of another. While it may open the door, without the proper commitment and grace of the Sacrament of Marriage, that door is only being opened to temptation. No wonder we end up frustrated, we follow our natural inclinations and wind up further from our goal.
While it might seem that all is lost and that we’ll be forever frustrated, that isn’t God’s plan. The frustration is there to teach us to follow His will, to guard us from jumping off the cliff without our bungee cords (read: commitment and the grace of the Sacrament) attached. The frustration teaches us that there is something better, something more, something worth waiting for. As the prophet Hosea writes, “Therefore, I will hedge in her way with thorns and erect a wall against her, so that she cannot find her paths. If she runs after her lovers, she shall not overtake them; if she looks for them she shall not find them. Then she will say, ‘I will go back to my first husband, for it was better with me then than now.'” The frustration teaches us to go back to our first Love, to throw ourselves at His feet and tell Him that it is better with Him, to beg Him to teach us how to love as we ought. When we love Him first, when we order our love according to His plan, He tells us, “From there I will give her the vineyards she had, and the valley of Achor as a door of hope…I will espouse you to me forever: I will espouse you in right and in justice, in love and in mercy; I will espouse you in fidelity and you shall know the Lord.” Right. Justice. Love. Mercy. Fidelity. Far better than frustration and despair. He longs to give them all to you, to grant you entrance to the castle and the city, but we need His permission to enter, nothing more, nothing less.