Love Songs Prove It: Only the Church Understands Love
When a woman and a man fall in love, they know exactly what they expect — and both the Catholic Church and pop music agree that they can get it.
It can sound dry and dusty when the Catechism says what they want: “Unity, indissolubility, and openness to fertility are essential to marriage.”
But it sounds like a revelation when Ed Sheeran sings “I won’t give up this time,” in the song “Perfect” —because “I found a love, to carry more than just my secrets / To carry love, to carry children of our own.”
The fact is, the Church’s teaching that marriage has to be exclusive, lifelong, and open to life is not old-fashioned, strict, or anti-human. It is the natural expression of the human heart. In a podcast I considered songs old and new that express exactly that. Here are a few examples.
Take “indissolubility” first.
“The matrimonial union of man and woman is indissoluble,” says the Catechism. “God himself has determined … ‘what therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder.’”
Country music has always recognized this. I remember when the country group Shenandoah had a hit, shortly after I got married, with the song “I Want to Be Loved Like That.” Referencing great loves in history, the singer says: “I want to be loved like that / A promise, you can’t take back.” That’s Catholic marriage: A promise you can’t take back.
Country music still sees this. In the recent hit “Things a Man Oughta Know,” Lainey Wilson first lists skills from hitching a trailer to changing a tire, then adds: “How to know when it’s love / How to stay when it’s tough … / If you really love a woman, you don’t let her go / Well, I know a few things a man oughta know.”
Taylor Swift saw this in her career’s early hit “Love Story,” where she imagines her Romeo saying, “Marry me, Juliet, you never have to be alone,” to her recent hit “Lover,” where she wants a new Romeo to “Take me out and take me home / Forever and ever.”
Indissolubility doesn’t mean you get to coast. It is a “day-to-day” commitment, says the Catechism — or as Train put it in their hit song, “Marry me / Today and every day.”
Second, marriage must be “exclusive.”
Lovers know that we want to be someone’s “One and Only,” to quote Adele. The same marital unity that makes polygamy wrong applies to every marriage, says the Catechism. Catholic marriages have to be “exclusive.” That means you have to love — and express love — only to your spouse, no one else.
Often, the songs that show this best are cheating songs. When we’re cheated on, we either want to “take a Louisville slugger to both headlights,” like Carrie Underwood — or we’re just sad, like Marvin Gaye when he “Heard it Through the Grapevine.”
But said positively, this rule means that the loving sexual act is 100% self-gift, with nothing held back.
That’s what John Legend is saying when he sings: “All of me / Loves all of you … You’re my end and my beginning / Even when I lose I’m winning / ’Cause I give you all of me / And you give me all of you.”
It’s also what Taylor Swift sings in her song “Fifteen”: “Abigail gave everything she had to a boy who changed his mind. / And we both cried. / Because when you’re 15 and someone tells you they love you / You’re gonna believe it.”
Third is openness to children.
The Church teaches that the unitive aspect is just one essential part of the sexual act, however. Just as important is the “procreative.”
“It is necessary that each and every marriage act remain ordered per se to the procreation of human life,” says the Church.
I haven’t found songs that say exactly that, but honest singers absolutely see that love includes children. In “Beyond,” Leon Bridges sings, “She might just be my everything and beyond … Will she have my kids? Will she be my wife?”
In the song “Say You Won’t Let Go,” James Arthur refuses to take advantage of a drunk woman he helps home, and instead imagines what real love would look like in their future, including: “I’ll take the kids to school / Wave them goodbye.”
And it’s amazing to me how even mainstream pop singers reach for “having lots of kids” as a shorthand for “I love you a lot.”
In Starlight, Taylor Swift sings about wanting to: “Have 10 kids and teach ’em how to dream,” and “When It’s Love,” by Train, includes the line “We can laugh, we can sing / Have ten kids and give them everything.”
So don’t believe that the Church is out of touch in its teaching on married love. It is as in touch with the deepest needs of the human heart as Beyonce is when she sings, “If you like it then you should have put a ring on it.”