Thursday, January 06, 2005

Love Stories

My sister always sends us some classic (and not so classic – but entertaining) movies (videos) at Christmas. While swashbuckling adventure stories will always remain my favorites for fiction reading and movie entertainment, the occasional love story has its place. Unfortunately, tales of authentic love are few and far between historically, and even rarer in the present culture.

Popular culture tales of love (in books or movies) invariably depict the courtship phase of the relationship. The couple falls in love, are then separated by circumstances or misunderstanding, and are finally, joyfully (and tearfully) reunited to live happily ever after (hopefully married). This formula has not changed much in the history of books and motion pictures. The only substantial variation on this formula occurs when the couple is permanently separated at the end of the movie, but carry their ‘love’ for each other into eternity (i.e. Romeo and Juliet). These tales have fatal flaws in that they most often portray love in as merely or mostly a feeling.

The love between Romeo and Juliet, perhaps the most hailed ‘love story’ of all time, does not end in a sacrificial giving, but in a self-centered ‘sacrifice’ based on a desire for immediate gratification. Each decides that they can not go on with life without the other and so take their own lives. The benchmark of true love must be how the action or sacrifice benefits the beloved, not self. Thus these final actions by Romeo and Juliet have no benefit to the beloved, but only demonstrate an attempt to satisfy the feelings of the action-taker. Authentic love is not based on feelings, but on the will and is demonstrated by suffering and sacrifice (if necessary) for the sole benefit of the beloved or for the love commitment itself, without regard to self-gratification.

I believe a love story – if it is authentic – should be modeled after Christ’s love shown in the Gospels. We remember that Christ suffered and died for his bride – this then is the model of true love and thus married love. (If those of you who are single don’t believe suffering is the hallmark of authentic love – just wait until you are married, ha! ha!)

Therefore, I submit two of the great (fictional) love stories, concern married couples. These are classics, both of literature and film so I will discuss them without completely summarizing the plots. (For those who haven’t read these, or seen their respective movies, I hope this effort encourages you, rather than giving away the entire plot). Of course the two works I am speaking about are The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy and Random Harvest by James Hilton.

The Scarlet Pimpernel may seem an odd choice. It is better known as a swashbuckling drama played-out during the French Revolution. But this is also a drama played-out between husband and wife. They have a problem in their marriage with trust and communication. The husband doesn’t trust his wife because of he heard has heard that she once betrayed a family to the guillotine. Because of the evil he sees in the French Revolution and the secret part he is playing to rescue victims of the guillotine, he no longer shares his true identity and deepest passions with her. She is confused and bewildered why her husband has become so very distant and almost another person. Yet for brief moments in the tale he throws off his distance from her to tell her that he truly loves her. He remains with her, and she him. The faults of the two lead characters are very real. How often do we assume our spouse’s motives and intentions are contrary to our well-being and thus we become distant or play back at the same game? Yet this couple is determined to remain faithful to each other until problems can be resolved - even while their stubbornness and faults are weakening their marriage. Eventually their trust and communication problems are resolved – but this resolution is only possible by their continued commitment. Neither spouse in this drama is a perfect model for us, (who is but Christ?). But the perseverance in an difficult marriage is a model for married couples; today's culture encourages divorce as soon as one spouse 'feels unfulfilled'. Modern culture would have put a different twist on this story. Marriage is a covenant witnessed by God, and with God’s assistance, especially through the sacramental graces of matrimony, (there for the asking), our problems in marriage can also be resolved – but only through perseverance in love.

The second story, Random Harvest is perhaps more of a model of Christ’s love. The husband, becomes separated from his wife and through amnesia doesn’t even know he is married. Yet his wife seeks him out and serves him as a secretary for years - out of love for him. She has no hope he will ever recognize her. Yet she continues to serve. How much is this like Christ’s love for His Bride? He died for us – who do not know Him, who do not appreciate Him. We as spouses must serve each other with no concern for recognition or appreciation. This is love.

Dietrich Von Hildebrand says in his book Marriage – the mystery of faithful love (Sophia Institute Press) that all marriages have the purpose of attaining the highest possible communion or mutual love possible between the spouses. Some marriages in particular are truly made in Heaven and have the potential of being a true living example to the world of Christ’s spousal love. In the other extreme, (such as is the case in at least part of Random Harvest), one spouse must forego receiving the love of their spouse and must spend their life “primarily in sacrifice and renunciation, in care for the salvation of the other” – who is not participating in the love of the marriage. Thus the purpose of every spouse in every marriage, no matter the nature of their particular marriage, will not be realized until that spouse truly lives in a spirit of sacrifice - fully embracing his vocation.

So maybe the next time we sit down to read (or view) these stories, or other love stories, we can compare them with the True Model and be inspired to a greater commitment to love and joy in our own marriages.

From the small holding in Bethune ...

Oremus pro invicem!

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