May 25, 2019

Return of Romance

At the risk of giving up my “Torch of Manhood” credential, I admitted to a buddy the other day that I watch Hallmark movies. To my surprise, he said he does too. Is manhood lost in 2018?

No, I propose it is making a return. Manhood loves romance. Sexual gratification for the sake of conquest is not being a man; it is being a carnivore. I find it hard to understand how the very people who say we should rise above our animal instincts are often the same ones who promote immorality as acting naturally. In this regard, why isn’t a “Me Too” movement opposing the passing out of condoms in high schools? While it may protect a victim from pregnancy, shouldn’t we care more about creating environments where promiscuous and predatory behavior is not tolerated?

That is where Catholic teaching is so often misunderstood. The guiding principal is always dignity. No life is conceived without it. We are called to look for dignity in every life and defend it.

Perhaps that is why I have mostly left network television and shows based on degrading women and the family to watching Hallmark movies. My wife and I joke about the common Hallmark formula of describing the setting, love fosters, love is challenged and in the end, love wins. Some may feel that the simple story lines are not real life. I disagree. We live that story today. We also know that in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus that love is fostered, love was challenged and in the end, love won. I am not going as far as to say there is a Gospel message in a Hallmark movie. No, I am simply happy with the notion that, in these stories, people have values along with others who have lost them. Love and family bring these lost values to the forefront again. That is a lesson I need to relearn each year myself.

In the cynicism of our society, we have lost our notion of love. Is there a greater joy than finding a first love or greater heartache than losing it? Recall the emotions of the world coming alive for us in love. Recall the pain and the world falling apart when a relationship ends. That is life at its best! Life must be felt as much as lived. Feelings get buried too easily these days. We were created to live our feelings, not suppress them like Spock. Recently, one of my daughters became engaged. It made me recall that my engagement was one of the happiest times in my life. Why? It really isn’t hard to imagine. It was a time where love was forefront in my life. I can see hate in the network news. I can participate in denigrating values on network television. Or, I can watch Hallmark and remember that in a world of values and romance, love wins.

I was not too happy this year when Hallmark started the Christmas season closer to Labor Day than December 25th. At least wait until the end of the World Series or let me enjoy Thanksgiving first. In fact, Hallmark’s Thanksgiving movies are still all about Christmas. My turkey deserves more respect than that. How about showing “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” with John Candy and Steve Martin? Isn’t it bad enough that Black Friday now starts right after the dishes are done on Thursday? Explain that consumerism to St. Peter before the Pearly Gates… The Bears played Detroit again on Thanksgiving Day this year – isn’t that a return to tradition too? The world didn’t follow my lead. Hallmark has been killing its competitors in the ratings.

Fortunately, while chasing this windmill, I listened to a recent broadcast of “Conversations with the Cardinal” with Cardinal Dolan. In this episode, he was discussing an upcoming book on Advent and reminiscing about his time in St. Louis. Cardinal Dolan mentioned a visit to the “Church of the Nativity” and wondered why a nativity scene is not up year round. He makes a wonderful point in celebrating the Incarnation.This single event in the history of creation needs to be celebrated and reflected upon more than on the Octave of Christmas. Listening to this brought me back to Hallmark Christmas movies. Yes, they start too early. Yet, if starting a little early reminds us of a wonderful season, is that really bad? If people stop and see where their values have been masked in the past year, wouldn’t we live in a better place – if at that moment we allow those values to resurface? What marriage can’t use a spark of romance every now and then to re-enliven a relationship that has focused all year on bills to pay, family issues and the challenge of work-live balances for everyone involved?

Bring on the holidays and leave the consumerism to network television. This year, let us take part of our holiday budget and give it to charity. There will only be 200 or so mailings for needy causes finding their way to our mailboxes in the coming weeks. Perhaps we can find some time to call a friend or relative we have not spoken to in a while and tell them we are thinking about them.

Most of all, let us take advantage of the lost season of the liturgical year – Advent. Advent is not simply the weeks before Christmas where the vestments go from green to purple. It is a time the Church tells us to lose the “rush” we have all been accustomed to. While we are busy rushing, we are failing in noticing the life we are supposed to be living. Advent is remembrance and anticipation. Advent renews our expectancy of the Messiah and the desire for his return. This anticipation leads us to joy. Finding our joy should make us look, act and feel like a child in anticipation of Christmas morning.

This year, let us all say “Merry Christmas” to a stranger and to that cashier who is not allowed to say it to us. Let us leave the daily grind behind, and share ourselves knowing that our time is the best gift we can give. Take the time to sit down and watch a movie on Hallmark. Smile at the romance. Let those values come alive in us again. And this year, let’s work together to keep these values around all year long.

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Written by
Deacon Gregory Webster

REVEREND DR. GREGORY WEBSTER is a permanent deacon of the Archdiocese of Chicago. He was ordained to the Permanent Diaconate by Francis Cardinal George in May 2014 and is assigned to St. Raphael the Archangel Parish in Old Mill Creek, Illinois. Deacon Greg holds a Ph.D. in Analytical Chemistry from Northern Illinois University, M.A. in Theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary and an M.A. in Bioethics and Health Policy from Loyola University of Chicago. Deacon Greg and his wife have been married more than twenty-five years and are blessed with three beautiful daughters and two pretty cool terriers.

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Written by Deacon Gregory Webster