Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 4, 2002
Romance is God's foretaste of heaven
By FR. RON ROLHEISER, omi
Romantic love, in its very sweetness, intuits the kingdom.
That's precisely what's at issue for Edith Wharton's tragic hero in The Age of Innocence. A stable marriage and a couple of wonderful children never quite seem to compensate for what he might have had - torrid, dark, passion. Her hero tortures himself with the ideal of a missed romance even as he is very loved inside of a good marriage. The emptiness he feels has a certain tragic poetry to it, but it has a certain adolescence as well. The dream of fewness can make us very unhappy and boorishly unappreciative of the love within which we actually live.
Conversely, though, a heart that's not at least a little tortured by unrequited romantic longing is usually too a heart that's lost its passion and its proper fire for life. The dream of fewness is rooted in our wildest longings. It's a dream of heaven really, of beatific vision as sweet embrace.
Romantic love, in its very sweetness, intuits the kingdom. Whatever its down-side, it points us towards ecstasy and tries to lure us there. Nobody who still aches for romance needs to be reminded that we are meant to live by more "than bread alone" or that life is more than just its simple sweetening through comfort and security. The ache of romance, perhaps more than anything else, propels those of us who aren't yet saints beyond ourselves, outwards, towards something beyond comfort and safety. It's a fire that also says: "You have made us for yourself, Lord, and our hearts are restless until the rest in you."
To lose the dream of fewness is to lose some health. To be jaded or cynical about romance is to denigrate one of God's good gifts. We may never, in the name of maturity or religion, be cynical about romance, first love, first fervour, and the tastes of ecstasy these hold out. Each of these plays its own part in the way God draws us towards himself and into the kingdom.
Several years ago, a student of mine who was getting married wrote this to me: "Father, this isn't naive passion. I know what I'm doing. I'm not looking for any Hollywood romance here!"
I wasn't impressed by her effort to show this extra maturity. I sent her Porter's poem on the dream of fewness, along with a note that said: "Enjoy young love, your honeymoon, the dream of fewness. It's one of the better foretastes of heaven given you in this life. The accidents of life, soon enough, will deprive you of that. Taste and remember!"
God gave us romance for just that reason, as a tiny foretaste of the ecstasy of eternal life. Taste and remember!
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