A novel which presents chastity and courtship in a positive light
ARMS OF LOVE
by Carmen Marcoux
(One Way Publishing House, 2002, 438 pp, $34.00. Available from Freedom Publishing)
Chastity doesn't rate a mention in mainstream pop culture, having gone out of popularity in the eras of Woodstock and Grease. However, it is currently undergoing an image renovation in North America and some parts of Australia thanks to the resurgence of abstinence as a viable option in many evangelical circles.
A result of this resurgence has been a greater emphasis on courtship, as opposed to dating. Courtship places emphasis on getting to know a person within the parameters of friendship and particularly within the family unit, with physical contact kept to a minimum.
This is totally different from dating, where just about anything seems to go physically, with the commitment signified by the actions often absent, since the physical relations, having lost much of their implicit intimacy, tend to be reduced to mere sport or recreation. Courtship, on the other hand, makes chastity paramount and places physical intimacy in its rightful context: marriage.
The novel Arms of Love follows the path of an atheistic young man who has looks, a rewarding job, financial stability and a little black book full of phone numbers of attractive girls, with no strings attached. It's no wonder commitment is a dirty word to Brandon Vaughn - that is, until he catches sight of a "great set of legs" at the local television station where he works.
Unfortunately for him, "Church girl" is just that: a devout Catholic; but this just ups the ante in his challenge for conquest.
The way in which the tables are turned on him and he undergoes a dramatic conversion experience is frequently humorous and at times, touching.
Told from the alternating perspectives of both Brandon, and the object of his desire, Joanie Collins, the book details how acceptance of God's will and reliance on God is not like living to a set of rules designed to "keep you from having fun" but, rather, is actually a way to a fuller experience of life.
The way in which the example of one good person can influence the lives of many others is inspiring and demonstrates that, as Catholics, we must always be aware that actions speak louder than words. We need to be unlike the Pharisees of the New Testament, who were so caught up in the laws of their faith on such issues as cleanliness that they lost sight of the big picture. We need to do more than pay lip service to our faith.
This offering from a home schooling mother of seven is undeniably wholesome if a trifle too rosy. The author's strong faith shines through in the way in which the Collins family, particularly Joanie and Brandon, regularly use prayer in their daily life.
However, while the book demonstrates the truth that nothing is impossible with God, the relative ease with which Brandon is transformed from a promiscuous womaniser to a God-fearing Christian does seem a trifle incredible.
Even in the life of one of the Church's greatest saints, Augustine, it took much longer for him to succumb to the will of God and reform his hedonistic lifestyle. Rapid change is not totally impossible, especially when granted the grace of God, but old habits tend to die hard and temptation is always there.
The novel is to be commended for approaching the hard issues of premarital sex that most Catholics would rather not discuss, such as the risk of STDs and abortion, but the mere two pages devoted to abortion seems inadequate when abortion can often traumatise people for decades.
Unlike the brief encounter in the book, when Joanie and Brandon meet Ashley, the grief, shame and loss of abortion is rarely resolved with just a sincere apology offered when running into an ex-lover at the supermarket.
However, it is the inherent spiritual and emotional pain of premarital sex which is best covered in this book because although Joanie has forgiven Brandon for his former lifestyle, she still struggles as any human would when it rears its ugly head to confront her. The resolution to this internal conflict, when Joanie seeks the comfort of confession and the guidance of a wise yet understanding parish priest, is one of the most touching incidents in the book.
This novel approaches chastity and courtship in a manner different from the writings of popular pro- abstinence campaigners such as Christopher West whose "tough love" question and answer format is informative but might be perceived as dry and at times, inaccessible, to more youthful audiences.
The appropriate target audience for this novel would be adolescent females, aged around 15-16, who will be encouraged to wait for the right relationship rather than settle for an unhealthy one when they are still maturing.
Older women may find the book a bit naïve and even implausible and might benefit more from other offerings on the subject, such as Mary Beth Bonnacci's Real Love: The Ultimate Dating, Marriage and Sex Question Book (also available from AD Books), as it deals with specific issues about sexuality and relationships rather than overall concepts such as courtship and chastity.
Jacinta Cummins is a journalist working with the National Civic Council.