“…as long as the slightest throb stirs my heart, it will beat for love of you….”
The title of this post are the first lines of a love letter.
With the hand and heart of a poet, twenty-one year old Bartolomé Marquez writes these words of true love to his girlfriend, Maruja. You can almost hear him whispering each romantic stanza into the ear of his beloved Maruja as she rests in his arms, her head reclining close to his heart.
Yet, his beating heart will soon end and—in a natural way—so will the romance. For, young Bartolomé writes this love letter from a Spanish prison where a bullet will silence the heart which throbs for love of God and his girlfriend.
Spain, an ancient Daughter of the Church, in a dark period of history, turned against her Mother. In 1936, Bartolomé was imprisoned for the crime of being a Catholic faithful to Holy Mother Church. He was a catechist and an officer in Catholic Action.
On the day of his execution, he walked barefoot out of his cell in an imitation of Christ walking to Calvary. He kissed his handcuffs and spoke his final words on earth, “¡Viva Cristo Rey!”, “Long live Christ the King!” Pope Benedict XVI, on October 28th, beatified Bartolomé Marquez and 497 other martyrs who shed their blood in witness to the Gospel.
The relationship between Blessed Bartolomé and Maruja demonstrates the beauty and passion of a Catholic romance. I have always believed, and Chesteron will undoubtedly agree with me, that Catholics are the most romantic people in the world because we know most intimately not just the feeling of love but the Person of Love: Deus Caritas Est! Christ, the Source of Love, teaches us how to love because He has loved us first. With the bullet which ultimately sent Bl. Bartolomé to the arms of Christ the King, his romance with Maruja ceased its earthly expression, bound by natural limitations, and was transformed into a supernatural romance.
Note how Bl. Bartolomé expresses his love for his girlfriend. Like some of you, I grew up in a time (the 80s) when handwritten letters were still a common means of communication among friends and family members. And for quite a while now, I have been of the opinion that in our communication, we have traded efficiency for substance, elegant prose for sound bytes. “though” is “tho”, “you” is “u”…and the list of “lol”s, “idk”s, and “brb”s is seemingly endless…and “love”, perhaps the most power word ever spoken or written has become “<3” (or whatever the current shorthand form is).
Speaking of love—in all its blessed forms: eros, amor, caritas, philia, or agape—we’ve even managed to treat this highest of human experiences as a prepackaged commercial quality, a mere feeling, rather than as precious gift and sacred action.
Bl. Bartolomé knew both of love and how to communicate it well in words. In his final love letter to his girlfriend, the Blessed speaks more than just cute words of affection. He proclaims truth. Particularly, Bl. Bartolome talks about ennobling. Be it his love for Maruja or even his body, through martyrdom, he is being ennobled, that is, transformed into something higher, something noble, something more resembling God. Thus, after reading his letter of courageous fidelity, one is left with a profound sense of hope and a renewed determination to defend our Mother, the Bride of Christ.
Yet…there’s something about that last sentence…his final farewell…
Provincial prison of Jaen, Oct. 1, 1936
My dearest Maruja:
Your memory will remain with me to the grave and, as long as the slightest throb stirs my heart, it will beat for love of you. God has deemed fit to sublimate these worldly affections, ennobling them when we love each other in him. Though in my final days, God is my light and what I long for, this does not mean that the recollection of the one dearest to me will not accompany me until the hour of my death.
I am assisted by many priests who — what a sweet comfort — pour out the treasures of grace into my soul, strengthening it. I look death in the eye and, believe my words, it does not daunt me or make me afraid.
My sentence before the court of mankind will be my soundest defense before God’s court; in their effort to revile me, they have ennobled me; in trying to sentence me, they have absolved me, and by attempting to lose me, they have saved me. Do you see what I mean? Why, of course! Because in killing me, they grant me true life and in condemning me for always upholding the highest ideals of religion, country and family, they swing open before me the doors of heaven.
My body will be buried in a grave in this cemetery of Jaen; while I am left with only a few hours before that definitive repose, allow me to ask but one thing of you: that in memory of the love we shared, which at this moment is enhanced, that you would take on as your primary objective the salvation of your soul. In that way, we will procure our reuniting in heaven for all eternity, where nothing will separate us.
Goodbye, until that moment, then, dearest Maruja! Do not forget that I am looking at you from heaven, and try to be a model Christian woman, since, in the end, worldly goods and delights are of no avail if we do not manage to save our souls.
My thoughts of gratitude to all your family and, for you, all my love, sublimated in the hours of death. Do not forget me, my Maruja, and let my memory always remind you there is a better life, and that attaining it should constitute our highest aspiration.
Be strong and make a new life; you are young and kind, and you will have God’s help, which I will implore upon you from his kingdom. Goodbye, until eternity, then, when we shall continue to love each other for life everlasting.
Bl. Bartolomé Blanco Marquez of Pozoblanco, pray for us!