In honor of the Feast of St. Valentine, I’ve decided to dedicate this post to l’amour and how Catholics do romance.
G.K. Chesterton, the famous English author (and notable Catholic convert), in his book Orthodoxy defines romance as “that mixture of the familiar and the unfamiliar…the combination of something that is strange with something that is secure.” So, romance is fundamentally a paradox, a contradiction.
This isn’t just about opposites attracting; it’s about embracing the cross: perhaps the ultimate sign of romance since there can be no greater contradiction than the cross (cf. Luke 2:34).
Okay, before I get too theological, go back and reread (if you haven’t already done so) this post about Bl. Bartolomé.
After reading his letter, doesn’t your heart stir with sorrow and with some sort of inexplicable contentment? See? A paradox, no? Here is romance.
So, what does this interesting, if not confusing, theological point have to do with us?
Employing a little etymology, Chesterton tells us that “the very word ‘romance’ has in it the mystery and ancient meaning of Rome.” Thus, to be romantic is to be Roman (Catholic). Catholicism is romantic because of the centrality of the cross. We are a paradoxical people because we follow Jesus. In Him, suffering and salvation meet; justice and mercy intersect.
If you think about all the romantic comedies you’ve seen, you will notice that when everything about a relationship becomes familiar and mundane, then romance is lacking. It is the unfamiliar and strange which awakens the lovers (i.e. people who love) from their humdrum lives. Chesterton says, “We need to be happy in this wonderland without once being merely comfortable.”
According to Chesterton, in order to achieve this, we need “practical romance”. This is where our Catholic perspective comes in. For our faith tells us that true love means dying to ourselves and seeking only the summum bonum (i.e. the ultimate good) of the other person. The more we see the face of God in the other person, the more intimately we encounter Christ, the more romance grows, and the more deeply we love. As you know, Love for us is not just a feeling in which one can fall into and fall out of, but a Person who has loved us first and who taught us how to love.
Through an intimacy with Christ we are united to Love; His Sacred Heart beats as one with ours such that each breath, each blink, each word, each though of ours radiates His love. What can be more exciting? Is there anything so “dangerous” or so thrilling than to surrender yourself completely to Jesus?
Without this union, our lives would be completely void of romance since we would have no use for faith in a God of mystery and contradiction. Yes, because we serve such a Lord and because we are open (I hope) to His will, our lives can never be normal or ordinary. How can life be mundane if we are to go “To the Ends of the Earth” so that “all the world will see” that Jesus “alone is the Son of God”? How can we live humdrum lives when we must daily face a battle between the forces of light and the beasts of Hell?
But getting back to the celebration of the day…even in the ordinary sense of the word “romance”, I think Catholics are the most romantic because we can appreciate the small, seemingly insignificant acts of kindness that are done with great love. In the little things like praying the rosary together, going on a First Friday date to adoration, reflecting on scripture together, or working alongside each other in ministry or another act of service, you affirm your commitment to keep Christ at the center of your relationship as the Source and Object of your love. More than all the great displays of affection this holiday (holy day) may promote are the daily acts of charity and humility to demonstrate true love and sincere affection.
Even if you are confused from all that I’ve written so far, understand this: if you want the relationship that Bl. Bartolomé had with Maruja, if you want that kind of romance, then love God above all else. That’s it!
For those of you in an exclusive pair relationship, remember that life is too short to settle for mediocrity. Although all relationships require tough struggles, do not settle for dating someone just for the sake of having someone to “go with”. You are worth more! You deserve romance! You deserve to experience that holy contradiction which enflames the heart and that was ignited by the spark of a pure and self-sacrificing love. Do not settle for less! But in order to achieve this, you must be like Bl. Bartolomé: your boyfriend or girlfriend must first and foremost be your brother or your sister.
For those of you not in such relationships or not called to the married life, then the same more or less applies because you’re still going to have friendships and other non-dating relationships. In these too can you experience romance; the expression of which, however, will definitely be more fraternal and less amorous. Yours will be a supernatural romance with the God of beauty and of wonder.
So, as you enjoy the candy, the flowers, and the pink and red hearts, think of Bl. Bartolomé sitting in his cold, dark prison cell, awaiting execution and writing a letter to his girlfriend, Maruja, whom he will not see again until reuniting on that day when nothing will ever separate them.
Think also of another prisoner: a Roman priest who is about to die because he was caught celebrating the Sacrament of Matrimony for Christian couples. Before his head is cut off, this prisoner writes a letter to the jailer’s blind daughter whom he had restored to sight. He signs this letter, “From your Valentine”.