Turn up the RomanceSCOTT HAHN
I still remember the moment when I "got" Opus Dei.
If Love, even human love, gives so much consolation here,
Up till then, I had admired its fidelity to Christian doctrine, its plan of life, and the kindness and intelligence of its people. But I didn't truly understand what set Opus Dei apart from anything else. As I look back, I see that I had good excuses for my incomprehension. For one, I was new to the Catholic faith. I was also distracted — to the point of anxiety. My new-found faith was placing a strain on my marriage; any time I might have spent studying the spirit of Opus Dei, I was instead spending to prepare my explanations of all the distinctive Catholic beliefs and practices. "Always be prepared," said St. Peter, "to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account" (1 Peter 3:15) . I figured that went double if one's own wife was doing the calling.
Kimberly was (and still is) a very articulate, very well educated, very devout and ardent daughter of a Presbyterian minister. She holds a master's degree from one of the most respected evangelical theological schools in America. She knew what she believed, and she knew why. As an intelligent and informed Calvinist, she knew why she was Protestant. The very stuff of the Protestant Reformation was a protest against certain traditional Catholic doctrines and devotions. Kimberly had very serious objections to Catholicism, at least as she perceived it. She worried that my turning toward Marian devotion was a turning away from Jesus Christ. She worried that my use of sacramentals might be superstitious — and that my invocation of the saints might be idolatrous.
So I did what any rationalist would do in such a situation. I spent hours of every day carefully researching and crafting answers to her objections, constructing arguments out of those answers, and then mentally rehearsing the best ways to present those arguments.
I was genuinely surprised when my strategy didn't seem to work. Kimberly and I would stay up till three debating doctrinal differences and then continue the conversation at breakfast in the morning. Yet the more irrefutable my arguments, the more I seemed to push her away — and not only from the Catholic Church but from me as well. After a while, she refused to read the articles and books I recommended for her reading. She refused to read even a paragraph of a particular article about the Blessed Virgin Mary. I could tell that she was beginning to dread the start of our conversations for fear of where they might end up.
I was frustrated and heartbroken. I turned to a friend of mine, Gil, who happened to be a member of Opus Dei. In painful detail I explained how much I had tried to anticipate Kimberly's concerns and how carefully I had tried to address every one of them.
I saw Gil wince.
"What?" I asked him. "What's wrong?"
He looked at me in the most brotherly way and said, "Why don't you turn down the apologetics and turn up the romance? ”
At first I was skeptical. But then I took the problem to my confessor, an Opus Dei priest, who gave me strikingly similar counsel. The message couldn't be clearer: "Lighten up on the theology, Scott. Go heavy on the affection."
It hardlyseemed right to me. Here I was, a theologian advised to abandon the queen of sciences, the most noble pursuit I knew — all for the sake of what? Candlelight and sweet nothings?
But now lightning had struck twice in the same place in my heart, and the bolts flashed from two men whom I respected deeply. I would give it a try.
I tried at first to rediscover the common ground of our marriage, to focus on what united us as a couple rather than what divided us. I began to realize how seldom, for example, I had initiated conversations about our children, who were then very small. We began, again, to laugh together and to appreciate the small daily discoveries of young parents.
Eventually, we were able to pray together once again, without contention or provocation.
It was working. Instead of trying to build the perfect argument, I was trying to be a better husband to my wife, a better father to my children, a better son to my parents and my in-laws.
The effect on our marriage was electric. I'll spare you the details. I will only point out that the day arrived when Kimberly began to ask me questions about the Catholic faith. And it wasn't long before she too was asking to be received into full communion with the Church.
"Turning up the romance" accomplished what endless debate could never force.
And that, to me, is Opus Dei.
So much of the spirit of Opus Dei was wrapped up in that simple advice: "Turn up the romance." What was Gil telling me, underneath it all?
He was telling me to respect Kimberly's freedom. (That's Opus Dei.)
He was telling me that grace builds on nature. (That's Opus Dei.)
He was nudging me toward secularity and away from an annoyingly clericalist approach to the problem. (That's Opus Dei.)
And he was emphasizing the importance (and even the sexiness) of ordinary family life. (And that's Opus Dei.)
These are all consequences of the truth at the heart of Opus Dei: divine filiation. What Gil led me to see was that all creation awaited the revelation of God's children and the glori ous freedom of the children of God (see Romans 8: 19-21) — but that God would do the revealing, and in His good time. It was my job to be faithful to my marriage covenant in ways I had too long been neglecting.
When I could bring myself to trust in Kimberly's conversion as God's work, not mine, I could more truly love Kimberly, and in ways that even she could recognize.
Loving Like Jacob
This unexpected success at home caused a ripple effect throughout my life. I found myself applying Gil's principles to my professional labors and prayer. It's not that I started seeking romantic encounters on the job. Rather, I "turned up the romance" in my overall spiritual life.
A biblical illustration might be in order. Consider the story of Jacob, in the Book of Genesis (Genesis 29), One day while traveling, the young man met a woman "beautiful and lovely" named Rachel. He was so smitten that he wept aloud. Soon he approached Rachel's father, Laban, and asked for the privilege of marrying her. So much did he love her that he promised to work in Laban's lands for seven years in order to merit such a wife. "So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her" (v. 20). Jacob would, in fact, labor another seven years that way, because of the trickery of Laban.
Notice, however, that Jacob did not toil in bitterness. Nor did he grimly ponder all the places he'd rather be than pushing sheep through the pastures of an untrustworthy man. He worked with joy because his heart was set on the goal: the love of Rachel. He kept a spirit of service because he was serving the only man who could lead him to that goal. In fact, when all was said and done and Jacob had married Rachel, he served Laban for another seven years, out of gratitude!
We all have so much to learn. I am no longer speaking here about domestic bliss. I'm talking about something far greater: our goal of reaching heaven.
For that goal, how much should we be willing to work? Seven years? Fourteen? Twenty-one? Seventy? The longest life-time would not be enough.
And how much joy should brim our hearts when we are working for the love of God? How much love and loyalty should we bear toward the boss and our coworkers?
There is not a hint of tin-can mysticism in Jacob. He doesn't daydream about the delights of a remote retirement. For love's sake, he applies elbow grease, one hour after another hour, and then another hour after yet another, till seven years have passed and it seems to him but a few days.
Opus Dei taught me to strive after the kind of love that Jacob lived, to keep the sense of adventure in marriage and in everyday life, to remain mindful of the high stakes of ordinary conversations, to recognize the everlasting consequences of lingering glances — especially when they're directed heavenward.
All this is true in the orders of grace and nature. The Work of God is to work with love and joy, daily turning up the romance in our ordinary life. For God awaits our tender love, wherever we are and at every moment.From such romance good homes are made, in the Church and in the world.
Scott Hahn. "Turn Up the Romance." chaper 12 in Ordinary Work, Extraordinary Grace: My Spiritual Journey in Opus Dei (New York: Doubleday, 2006): 117-122.
Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Scott Hahn received his Bachelor of Arts degree with a triple-major in Theology, Philosophy and Economics from Grove City College, Pennsylvania, in 1979, his Masters of Divinity from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in 1982, and his Ph.D. in Biblical Theology from Marquette University in 1995. Scott has ten years of youth and pastoral ministry experience in Protestant congregations (in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Massachusetts, Kansas and Virginia) and is a former Professor of Theology at Chesapeake Theological Seminary. He was ordained in 1982 at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Fairfax, Virginia. He entered the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil, 1986.
Copyright © 2006 Scott W. Hahn All Rights Reserved
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