When Romeo convinces Friar Lawrence to marry him to Juliet, he tells the priest that he is unconcerned with any possible sorrow. It cannot compare to the joy “that one short minute gives me in her sight.”
Romeo is an unrepentant romantic. Knowing that Romeo had sounded just like this, back when he was in love with fair Rosaline, Friar Lawrence counsels him:
These violent delights have violent ends
And in their triumph die, like fire and powder,
Which, as they kiss, consume. The sweetest honey
Is loathsome in his own deliciousness
And in the taste confounds the appetite.
Therefore love moderately. Long love doth so.
Too swift arrives as tardy as too slow.
I am no Friar Lawrence, but I did have a student like Romeo, an unrepentant romantic. Mark was every professor’s dream. He listened attentively in class and asked thought-provoking questions. Some days he followed me across campus to keep the conversation going, comparing what he had learned in one class with that of another. He always needed more paper for exams, even though his notes and exams were written in an elfin print.
By second semester, Mark sought me out for more personal conversations, though his freshman year in college seemed to glide from one new wonder to the next. Did he really want to become a physician, or should he study whatever new discipline had suddenly captivated him?
“Love and action always imply a failure, but this failure must not keep us from loving and acting.”
Early in the second semester, Mark announced the very dawn of love in the person of Juliet. Her name wasn’t Juliet. Years later, I cannot remember it, but I do recall meeting her briefly. She was a lovely girl. They were both in St. Bonaventure sweatshirts, walking hand in hand across a snowy campus.
Shortly before Valentine’s Day, Mark appeared at my office door. “Can you help me to make a Valentine’s Day present for Juliet? It has to be perfect!” Possessing neither expertise, nor much experience in the matter, I asked what I could do. “Drive me to Walmart.” Like many a freshmen, he did not have a car.
At the store, he laid out his creation. We were going to purchase strawberries, a good dozen of Walmart’s finest. Then we were going to buy white chocolate so that he could dip the strawberries.
“How are you going to melt it?”
“I have a microwave.”
There was some concern over the best white chocolate to purchase for strawberry fondue, but a phone call to his mother settled that.
The following week, I asked how it went. “My first tries were not so good, and it didn’t look just as I had hoped, but we had the most wonderful time, eating them together. Oh, Father, you can’t imagine.” Indeed, I dared not try!
There is something wonderful, something unrepentantly romantic, in a true lover’s gift. In her classic The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir writes, “In the same way as hatred and revenge do, love and action always imply a failure, but this failure must not keep us from loving and acting.”
A handful of daisies, gathered by a child who loves his mother, is much more an esteemed expression of love than a dozen roses, purchased online.
Just as the strongest hatred never arrives at a fully satisfying revenge, our acts of love will never be complete, never be without human limitation, but they are all the more lovely, all the more human, because we rise to the attempt. This is why a handful of daisies, gathered by a child who loves his mother, is much more an esteemed expression of love than a dozen roses, purchased online with a credit card and delivered by the florist. The greater the discrepancy between the ardor of the lover and the perfection of the gift, the more we admire such unrepentant romanticism as the truest of loves.
The Prophet Jeremiah, sitting in the shade of his self-pity, complains:
You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped;
you were too strong for me, and you triumphed.
All the day I am an object of laughter;
everyone mocks me (20:7).
Love for the Lord had made him a prophet, and it has also painted him the fool. But even as he contemplates abandoning his scorned little ministry,
I say to myself, I will not mention him,
I will speak in his name no more.
But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart,
imprisoned in my bones;
I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it (20:9).
As Beauvoir noted, “Love and action always imply a failure, but this failure must not keep us from loving and acting.”
And the world’s most unrepentant romantic insisted:
Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Mt 16:24-25).
Jesus calls forth our loving gifts, even the gifts of our lives, though, apart from him, they can never rise to meet the lofty love of God. Our actions never do. But those who love are compelled to give. “Love and action always imply a failure, but this failure must not keep us from loving and acting.”
Jesus calls forth our loving gifts, though, apart from him, they can never rise to meet the lofty love of God.
Following the lead of their divine Romeo, Christians have always been unrepentant romantics. We have insisted that one can embrace virginity for the sake of the kingdom. Who gains in such a gift? Is it deemed worthy of God’s dignity? No, nothing we do rises unaided to that height, but love compels us! St. Paul wrote the Romans:
I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God,
to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice,
holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship (12:1).
True Christians, in any form of life, have always been ascetics. We believe that we can fast, do penance, go out of our way to show some little love to the Lord—think of making a visit to the Blessed Sacrament or of lighting a candle in church—and, though this act is like an arrow that never arrives at its mark, it is all the more pleasing to God because of that.
The great danger of what passes for contemporary Christianity is the rise of rationalism and the decline of romanticism. Why would God care if I am faithful to my vows? If I struggle to be a very good parent? If I pray for those who suffer violence? Is it rational to think that the God, who created the universe and all its wonders, is really quite charmed when we crown “his Mother in May”?
No, it is not all that rational, but it is darn romantic, like those Valentine’s Day strawberries dipped in white chocolate. Love and action always imply a failure, but this failure must not keep us from loving and acting. Lovers, human and divine, do not simply admire each other’s gifts. They are compelled to share because sharing is the sublime joy of love.