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
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.
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.
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.’”
priest wrote me after finishing the book: “I’ve read — well, I am reading — your book
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
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.
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
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
tours, why not take advantage of people’s curiosity to let them know about the real
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?
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