By: Christopher West
The President of Notre Dame made headlines a few years back by granting permission for continued on-campus performances of “The Vagina Monologues.” This play, in case you haven’t heard, is based on interviews with over two-hundred women regarding their personal feelings about their bodies and their varied sexual experiences. The details of these interviews, often graphic, are presented in a series of monologues. Still widely viewed in universities and theaters across America, it is more than appropriate to treat the subject at this time.
My point here is not to examine the problems inherent in staging such a play at “Our Lady’s University.” I’ll leave that to the local bishop, who, in fact, immediately criticized Father Jenkins decision. Instead, I’d like to dig a little deeper. Why is there demand for such a play at Notre Dame in the first place? Is this play merely reflecting our culture’s prurient interest in sex? Or could there be something else at work here, some ache in the human heart that this play speaks to? Is it enough for Catholics just to condemn this play as immoral? Or can and should we do more?
WWJD: What would Jesus Do?
Why was Christ so compassionate towards sexual sinners, especially women? Think of the woman caught in adultery (see Jn 8:1-11). Think of the prostitute who wept at his feet (see Lk 7:36-50). Could it be because Christ knew that these women, who had been deceived by counterfeit loves, were actually looking for him, the true Bridegroom?
Jesus’ love for the woman at the well is particularly illuminating (see Jn 4:1-42). She’s thirsty. Like every human being, she’s thirsting for Christ, but doesn’t know it yet. Jesus gently points out her misguided attempts to satisfy her thirst when he says, “Go get your husband.” She admits that she doesn’t have one. Jesus then reveals that he knows all about the various men she’s been with. Does he condemn her for her many sexual sins? No. He understands the pains of her heart. He understands what led her to “drink” from “wells” that never satisfy. And he desires nothing but to satisfy her thirst with “living water” — water, that if you drink it, you “will never thirst again.”
I encourage you to reread this story in John 4. Jesus’ heart is burning with love for this woman. It’s as if he were saying, “I know the many ways you’ve looked for love and haven’t found it. If you only knew the gift that I wanted to give you. If you only knew who I am. I am the love you’ve been looking for. I am the Bridegroom your precious feminine heart has always desired, and I’m here for you. Come let us rejoice together in this love and let it well up in you to eternal life.”
Recognize the Wounded Heart
Is this the message the Church is sending to the hurting women who flock to see “The Vagina Monologues”? Women have been deeply wounded by both a puritanical fear of their bodies on the one hand, and by a pornographic exploitation of their bodies on the other. This play in its own vulgar way has given women a forum in which to explore their “issues.” It’s therapeutic at some level just to be given permission to talk about the questions, fears, and longings of the heart that “nobody talks about.”
We would do well as Catholics to reflect: when people come to us with deep aches from the sexual chaos of our world, do we even know how to listen? Do we even know how to offer them hope in Christ or where and how to direct them for help and healing? I would surmise that students at Notre Dame continue to demand this play because they have not heard anything better coming from their parents, their pastors, their friends, and their teachers in response to the many pressing questions and “thirsts” of their hearts.
How tragic! The Church has something far better to offer. We have the “living water” of patience, understanding, and redemption that Christ showed the woman at the well. Mere outrage, mere condemnation of this play or of the leadership of Notre Dame isn’t going to get us very far. We need to take up the redemptive vision our Church has given us, especially as articulated by John Paul II’s “theology of the body,” and let it transform us and the way we respond to our hurting world.