You can’t walk out on love. You can walk away, but a love that is real will follow. It will stay with you, because it has become a part of you. Goethe puts it in the plainest possible German, in his little poem “Heidenröslein.”
Here is the translation of Matthew Bell:
When love is deep, when truth is rock, when beauty captivates, we are changed forever. The rose pricks and the mark remains.
Elisha foolishly thinks that he can set his world in order before responding to Elijah. He can make the prophet’s preaching one more fact, one more element of his world. Love grants the lover no such leave. Elijah caustically responds, “Go back! Have I done anything to you?” (1 Kgs 19:20).
Some think that the Gospel is a wisdom, one which they can accept and use, or spurn and shelve. But the Gospel is not erudition, not a teaching. It is the offer of a person, and, if one has encountered the person of Christ in the sacred scriptures, in the church, which proclaims them still, one cannot walk away, not without leaving behind the self that matters.
Sometimes a preacher or a theologian loses faith—It can, you know, happen to anyone. We can stumble out of love—but he or she continues to preach, to teach, telling the self that the world is still being served, that the Gospel has a humane and salutary effect. But the Gospel is a person, not a program, and nothing is less compelling, less fruitful, than a voice that no longer loves the Lamb. Words exchanged between lovers have power. Words about agendas are only propaganda.
An old Jesuit once said that “the Catholic Church is like the Hotel California. You can check out, but you can never leave.” Love doesn’t vouchsafe that choice. If love pricks the heart, it never heals.
1 Kings 19: 16b, 19-21 Galatians 5: 1, 13-18 Luke 9: 51-62