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A Primer for Committed Couples

Couples in Love, by Fr. John R. Waiss, provides a comprehensive yet approachable and enjoyable overview of the Church’s teachings on issues that confront young couples in relationships.
by Lisa M. Hendey | Source:
With his newest book, Couples in Love: Straight Talk on Dating, Respect, Commitment, Marriage and Sexuality (Crossroad Publishing Company, November 2003, paperback, 224 pages), author John R. Waiss has provided a valuable primer for committed couples looking to live in conjunction with the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church with respect to the theology of the body. Written in dialogue format, the book covers the many delicate, yet crucial issues that confront young couples in relationships.

Based on his many years of counseling couples, Fr. Waiss introduces Margie (recently returned to practicing her Catholic faith) and Sam (raised Jewish and perplexed by his girlfriend’s refusal to be sexually intimate with him prior to marriage). Sam is committed to his relationship with Margie and suggests a visit and conversation with her parish priest, the popular and highly regarded Father JP, who is involved with preparing young couples for marriage. Sam and Margie open their hearts to Father JP, asking many hard questions on topics ranging from the meaning of love and marriage, to contraception, to learning to communicate and much more.

Couples in Love provides a comprehensive yet approachable and enjoyable overview of the Church’s teachings. Written from the perspective that human sexuality is “an affirmation of love,” the book presents its subject manner in a kind, loving and non-judgmental fashion. The book’s foreword, written by Cardinal Roger Mahony, Archbishop of Los Angeles, underscores the importance of Couples in Love as a helpful tool for not only learning Church teaching, but also for exploring the reasons behind those teachings. I recently had the opportunity to converse with author John R. Waiss and am pleased to share the following interview.

Q: Father John Waiss, author of Couples in Love: Straight Talk on Dating, Respect, Commitment, Marriage and Sexuality, thank you so much for taking the time to participate in this Catholic Book Spotlight. Would you please start off by telling our readers a bit about yourself and your vocation?

I have been a priest for 17 years. Although I considered priesthood a possibility in high school, God did not lead me down that path immediately. I attended Notre Dame and discovered my professional vocation in mechanical engineering, which came quite naturally to me. It was obvious that God gave me a talent for this, yet I still had a burning desire to serve the Church. When a friend introduced me to the Opus Dei center near campus, everything clicked: Opus Dei showed me that I could serve God and the Church right where I was, by sanctifying my studies in engineering and by helping my friends and colleagues become closer to God.

I worked a couple of years designing printers for computers, then I went on to receive a master’s degree at Stanford, again in engineering. At the time I was asked if I would like to go to Rome to study philosophy and theology more intensely. God again knocked on my heart and led me there. I was ordained in 1987 in the shrine to Our Lady of Torreciudad in Spain.

As a priest, I have served as chaplain for various centers of Opus Dei in Northern and Southern California. In my work of directing souls, I have dealt quite extensively with junior high and high school boys and girls (and their parents), college and young working men and women, and married people. While in northern California, I was the priest on a number of marriage preparation weekends, providing classes, spiritual direction, and the sacraments.

Q: Father Waiss, for our readers who have not yet read Couples in Love, please briefly describe the book.

The book is a dialogue between a priest, Fr. JP; a young man, Sam; and a young woman, Margie. Sam and Margie are falling in love with each other, but have divergent views on dating and sexuality so they seek the counsel of Fr. JP. I use this setting to answer the typical questions that young people are hit with today, such as: why does the Church teach what it does about sexuality, what are appropriate signs of affection in dating, how can one overcome impure habits, what to look for in a spouse, issues to consider in discerning one’s vocation, etc.

I try to avoid abstract and theological arguments that require faith to follow and instead use explanations that apply to everybody. In a conversation I had with a Berkeley student, who called himself an atheist, I was bombarded with difficult questions as we discussed why one should wait until marriage to have sex. As we concluded, this young man said to me, “I’m glad my girlfriend is not here because if she were, she may insist that we change our ways.”

The book portrays human sexuality as an affirmation of love. For example, in discussing lusting with the eyes, instead of instilling fear and worry about sinning, Couples in Love portrays guarding one’s eyes as a way of saying “I love you” with those eyes. This affirmation of love applies to our love for God and Our Lady, as well as to human love between married couples and between boyfriend and girlfriend.

Q: The book’s foreword by Cardinal Roger Mahony sets forth a wonderful description of the need in today’s society for a book like Couples in Love. What prompted you to write a book about relationships and today’s Church?

I just got tired of repeating myself! In my conversations with young people and couples, I found the same questions kept coming up: why does the Church teach that? Sometimes these questions arose in the classroom, sometimes in the confessional, but always with the sincere desire to know the truth.

As I answered some of the questions, I often got a nagging feeling that the answer I gave was not very convincing. So I wrestled with the question until I found an answer that was compelling and convincing. Other times, I would answer someone and realize, wow! That is a great answer, knowing full well that the Holy Spirit had inspired it.

It was great that Cardinal Mahony wrote the foreword. This has opened doors to many of the Catholic high schools and parishes who may be reluctant to use a book written by a priest of Opus Dei. Obviously, he feels that this is a very important area that needs evangelization.

Q: Who is your intended audience for the book?

When I was writing, I was thinking of the young adult or college student. However, moms, dads, and high school students have written me grateful for this resource. When I sent the manuscript to one publisher, he wrote back: “I have never seen such delicate issues so clearly addressed in print anywhere else…As I read, I kept thinking ‘Thank God I’ll have something to give my children to read on this subject when the time comes.’”

A mother wrote: “I absolutely loved the format…incorporating John Paul II’s theology of the body with such apparent ease — this version could be entitled ‘Theology of the Body for Dummies.’”

Even a priest wrote me after finishing the book: “I’ve read — well, I am reading — your book Couples in Love and found it very useful, not only for young people, but also for priests and educators who are trying to explain the doctrine of the Church on these matters in an attractive way.”

Q: I loved the fact that this book is a running dialogue, with “real world” characters like Margie and Sam conversing with the wonderful Father JP! It took me back to my own Pre-Cana counseling sessions, which were a wonderful prelude to my marriage. Why did you choose to write the book in dialogue form?

I chose the format for two reasons. First, the format seemed most natural because the explanations and arguments used in the book were developed and came to be in real dialogues with individuals and couples. Second, I found that people — especially men — can be quite theoretical and abstract when it comes to morality. For example, a young man may argue that “admiring” pretty girls at the beach or looking at pornography doesn’t hurt anyone, so it must not be a sin. Yet if his girlfriend happens to be listening, her possible slap across the face or storming out of the relationship makes him more “realistic”! The discussion suddenly becomes more personal and loving, and less theoretical and abstract, forcing a person to confront how his arguments affect his relationships. Moreover, the format helps the reader see how a person and a couple can grow in learning to live the virtue of chastity, in a sense, the reader learns to grow with the protagonists, Margie and Sam.

Q: Is Father JP based on anyone in particular?

Do you need to ask? Of course, Father JP refers to Pope John Paul II. His theology of the body and Christian personalism was a powerful influence on my thoughts.
I try to imagine how the Holy Father would respond to a couple if he were a lowly priest like me. Certainly he wouldn’t use abstract theological or philosophical descriptions, which he must do as Pope. No, in talking to ordinary people, he’d come down to their level by using practical examples and anecdotes that reflect those deeper philosophical and theological principles. This is what Father JP does in the book.
I’m sure the Pope would also share some of his own personal experience and struggles in those conversations. In the book, I share how the short prayer, “Mary, may I only have eyes for you. May I only have a heart for Jesus,” supports me in living out my commitments of love in celibacy. I learned this from the Holy Father and from St. Josemaría, the founder of Opus Dei.

Q: Father Waiss, what message would you hope that readers take away from the experience of having read Couples in Love?

Do not be afraid of the Gospel of Love. The Church’s teaching on sexuality and marriage is a goldmine for evangelization. We should be proud of it. Only those who know how to be pure in their lives and relationships really know how to love. This message is attractive to all, even to non-Christians.

Second, do not be afraid to struggle; purity is possible. There are many who are struggling to live purity but often they find it difficult and practically impossible in today’s society, bombarding us with so many temptations. In many ways the struggle to remain chaste before marriage and in marriage is a martyrdom, modern day martyrdom. I hope the book will give our young people hope and guidance in their struggles.

Q: Do you have any future writing projects in the works?

Two years ago, I co-authored a book with an evangelical pastor titled Letters Between a Catholic and an Evangelical. As a follow up on that, I am working on a book about the Blessed Virgin Mary in Scripture. I think I’ll entitle it The Evangelical Mary.

I am also considering doing a book on The Da Vinci Code and Opus Dei, since the book has sparked a lot of interest in Opus Dei. If the Louvre in Paris is now conducting special Da Vinci tours, why not take advantage of people’s curiosity to let them know about the real Opus Dei?

I have many other ideas, but must take them one at a time.

Q: Father Waiss, I appreciate your time and participation in this Catholic Book Spotlight interview. Are there any closing thoughts you’d like to share with our readers?

I would encourage people to pray for the Holy Father and for all those who are trying to find ways to communicate his theology of the body and Christian personalism. These are powerful tools for evangelization. I foresee them sparking an intellectual revolution, not just in theology and philosophy but in secular fields as well. We may well be experiencing the first thawing of the “new Springtime of Christianity.” It is exciting to be a part of it.

For more information on Couples in Love, click here.

Lisa M. Hendey is a mother of two sons, webmaster of numerous web sites, including CatholicMom.com and ChristianColoring.com, and an avid reader of Catholic fiction and non-fiction.

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