Love Conquers All, and Love Conquers Us
‘After the fall, marriage helps to overcome self-absorption, egoism, pursuit of one’s own pleasure, and to open oneself to the other, to mutual aid and to self-giving.’ (Catechism 1609)
Every year around this time, I teach Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” As a warm-up, we survey the students with a series of statements where they merely agree or disagree, and in some cases, argue the point.
One of the statements was, “Love conquers all.” Most of my students gave a thumbs-down for that sentiment. How could it be so?
Four years ago, my husband received a cancer diagnosis. Last year, I did as well. We have since dubbed this year “the most romantic ever.” Though we have not said it, we have recognized that, that will be the term for each year going forward for as long as we live. It keeps proving itself to be true. We’ve taken on writing notes to each other in a diary. The decision to be romantic itself, a romantic gesture, didn’t cure my or his cancer, but it did change how we looked at each day, and how we weathered the trials of chemo and radiation and all those side effects.
Another statement that my students found challenging was, “Love never changes.” The reality is that love changes us. Love changes us. We grow deeper in love, and are changed by that being willing to love more deeply. We grow to know even more securely how deeply we are loved, and that in turn allows us to live life joyfully, with full confidence, changed by that absolute security that comes from knowing we are in all things, and above all else, loved.
We decided to place love at the center and it’s allowed us to deal with the great and small sources of suffering with both a sincere acknowledgment and a slice of humor. Need to clean a bathroom? “It’s the most romantic year ever.” Flat tire when you go out to load the car? “It’s the most romantic year ever.” Dinner that somehow turns into a marathon attempt to make something, anything, that the children will eat? “It’s the most romantic year ever.”
Sufferings big and small — they didn’t go away, but saying “most romantic year ever” to each other revealed a bigger truth, which allowed us to endure the smaller reality that pretended it was all that there was. So when I sniffled at my bald and eyebrowless and eyelash-less self, my husband said, “I have loved you in all your seasons.” I knew it to be true, both for him, and for the One who made him and me and gave us this gift of each other.
If we recognize that each of us is a fallen soul even as each soul made in God’s image, then we can understand why it takes a whole lifetime of sacrificial love to even scratch the surface of what it means to love someone as a husband or a wife. We are still discovering how to love each other more deeply, to trust each other more fully, and that’s after a six-year courtship, 33 years of marriage and 10 children.
Marriage is a sacrament designed as a vessel for helping us journey to Heaven. Marriage is companionship for the journey and intended as an introduction to how we will love — a hint at the reality of the destination. Marriage does not exist in Heaven because it is not necessary — in Heaven, perfected, we will not wrestle with how to love perfectly, for we will be perfected by God who is Love, and in perfect joy immersed in God’s love.