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  • Stacey Sumereau

The Romance of the Cross: Our Way to Evangelization and Personal Conversion

In this moment I feel enlightened, discouraged, and feel as though we Catholics are TOTALLY selling ourselves short. just watched an interview with Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love.) She professes no religion as far as I know but she came across as a heart-wide-open, fully alive person. Her relishing the romance of simply being alive was irresistibly attractive. I found myself asking, “how can someone who has only a small fraction of the truth be so enamored with it, and make it seem so attractive?” We have a major advantage with our Faith. We HAVE the full truth! But are we enamored with it? Do we make it seem attractive? Or do we secretly buy into the popular lie that “religion is boring and stale?” There are two things at stake here: our personal relationship with Christ and the conversion of the hungry souls longing for his love.

Elizabeth Gilbert is divorced from a man and became romantically involved with a woman. Her lesbian lover died of cancer recently. No, Elizabeth was not living a life that our Faith teaches will lead to happiness. I believe our Faith. But follow me here for a bit- the interview won me over emotionally. Elizabeth spoke compassionately about the process of losing “the love of her life.” Hearing her talk about grief was moving. She dances every day as part of her recovery. Her take on the process of losing her lover was that this was an “interesting experience” that she somehow can’t wait to explore. Elizabeth was glowing with the romance of being alive. She felt no need to appear logical or smarter than everyone else. She used verbiage that points to a higher power: “sacred grief” and “benevolent universe.” A few steps further and she’s a Christian! Unfortunately, her openness unbalanced by reason leads her into logical fallacies that lead to going down wrong paths. She believes, although I don’t think she knows why, in some kind of loving force that is here to help her navigate her experiences. She explores with an open heart and it is an attractive thing to watch. How much more can and should we, who know God’s voracious love for us, glow with the joy of our relationship with him!

I gently exhort my fellow Catholics to live and embrace the romance of the cross. I believe this will be the bridge hungry souls need from “religion is boring” to understanding in both head and heart why Christ’s sacrifice is the absolute most romantic event in history.

Close your eyes and imagine this scenario: a lover wants to be with his beloved so much that he dies for her with no demand that she reciprocate. *Jaw drops* After enduring a horrible scourging, crowing with thorns, and carrying his cross up a steep hill, he voluntarily lays himself down and stretches out his hands to be nailed to the wood. As he does, he is thinking of you, and he sighs with love and desire for you. *Jaw hits floor*

If that doesn’t take your breath away, well then, I just don’t know what will. Yes, the mainstream media loves to mock Christians at every turn, especially in our counter-cultural beliefs about God’s plan for our sexuality. It’s no wonder we put up walls. It's no wonder we feel defensive and want to prove how logical our Faith is. However, as St. Paul says, "if I have faith that can move mountains but have not love, I am nothing." Love is the prerequisite for every act of faith.

We have love written into every line of the mass. We have romance, adventure, conquest and grandeur. It's all right there in our sacred liturgies and traditions. And that is something we can embrace and immerse ourselves in.

Think about the time you “stopped renting your parents’ faith and purchased your own” (to steal an expression from Mike Creavey’s episode of Called and Caffeinated.) What did you question beforehand about Catholicism? Why? What did you need to hear, both in your heart and in your head, that answered those questions and convinced you to enter fully into the Catholic Church?

Most people are swayed not just by logic, but also by a movement of the heart. An encounter with the holy romance of the Cross. In my own life, I received a vision of Christ giving me his heart and asking for mine in return. My view of Christ's sacrifice was forever changed by my newfound understanding of his specific love for me. My heart was moved to reciprocate. The logic of the Church aligns with that vision; however, the thing that moved me was personal encounter of the heart. God is likely waiting to use you as a channel of encounter for a future disciple, and the most attractive evangelization tool we have is our genuine joy in our relationship with our Heavenly lover. As Elizabeth Gilbert caught my attention by her genuine attraction to the romance of life, so others will be attracted to our Faith by our attraction to the romance of the Cross.

When I quiet myself and meditate on Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, I realize how small every problem in my life truly is in comparison to the wild, unmitigated love that is available to me. Just drawing breath is a gift! It moves my heart from a place of heaviness to a place of openness and joy and hope. And I know that that is a healthy place from which to discern, evangelize, and live. That is the spirit of consolation St. Ignatius wrote about (more on Ignatian spirituality on Called and Caffeinated here.) The Church has long taught that consolation is the place from which God wants us to operate and with the romance of Christ’s love, doesn’t it just make sense?

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