Romance requires revving. Either you give it the gas or it dies. In that regard, it differs from love. You can love someone, whom you almost never see; you can love someone without showing it; and you can continue to love someone after his or her death. You cannot do any of that with romance. It only lives and thrives when you throw wood on the fire.
One hundred and seventy years after he sent the letter, one can still see the imprint of a flower on its faded paper. It is a love letter that Ulysses S. Grant sent to his beloved wife, Julia, during the Mexican War. “Before I seal this, I will pick a wildflower off the bank of the Rio Grande to send to you.” Among the many letters that General Grant wrote to Julia during the American Civil War, one includes a lock of his hair. That is romance.
Better to speak of a romance with Christ, which, like any other, must be freely fired and fed with a touch of the fey.
And it is romance that Christ asks of us. At least, that might be the best word to describe what he does want of us. You see, the Gospel is not primarily a book of wisdom to be mastered, nor a set of injunctions to be fulfilled, nor a revelation to be studied. It is all of those things, but most of all the Gospel is a call to a personal relationship with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. There is nothing “programmatic” about the Gospel. Progress in gospel-living cannot be plotted out. Better to speak of a romance with Christ, which, like any other, must be freely fired and fed with a touch of the fey.
This is how to understand those Gospel sayings that seem to demand everything of us, all over again, no matter how many times we have already given ourselves.
And to another he said, “Follow me.”
But he replied, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.”
But he answered him, “Let the dead bury their dead.
But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
And another said, “I will follow you, Lord,
but first let me say farewell to my family at home.”
To him Jesus said, “No one who sets a hand to the plow
and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God” (Lk 9:59-62).
The point here is not that some of us have left all to follow Jesus, while others, perhaps out of necessity, have remained in their daily concerns. It is that every day of our lives, our Lord says “Follow me” to each one of us. And so each day—today—we are asked to leave behind what is dead and to follow where love leads us.
It does not matter that you have already given your love to Jesus. Nor that you have already begun to follow him, leaving something truly precious behind. All of that is in the past. Romance is a living thing. You either nourish it or it dies.
Christ is not in the business of keeping ledgers. He loves us without measure, and he shows that to us every day of our lives. He expects the same from us. Something a bit extravagant, novel and unexpected. That is how one romances. Spend some time in front of a tabernacle when the church is empty. Kneel down, somewhere in your own home. Pray a rosary. Go to confession. Do an act of kindness or charity “for love of Christ.”
Ulysses and Julia were very young when they decided to love each other. Through the years, both kept feeding the fire of romance. From the Mexican battlefield of Matamoros, Ulysses Grant reported to his wife on the great victory that he had helped to achieve there. And then he wrote:
You say in your letter I must not grow tired of hearing you say how much you love me! Indeed dear Julia nothing you can say sounds sweeter.... When I lay down I think of Julia until I fall asleep hoping that before I wake I may see her in my dreams.
Despite our best intentions, our love may well be constrained, but it can never become something measured out. God, the ancient lover of our souls, does not mitigate love. Religion without romance is no more than weary regulation.