The other night I was out with a few friends, and in a discussion about movies, one person revealed that she had a large, color-coded DVD collection of her favorite movies, ranked for each category. Naturally, we had to ask: “What are your categories?” and “What are your favorites?” We were not disappointed. Perplexed, but not disappointed.
Among her collection the largest section was the romantic comedy section. Fair enough. How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days? When Harry Met Sally? Hitch? The Notebook?
No. The Mummy Returns.
Yeah, that’s right. The Mummy Returns. The 2001 fantasy/action movie starring Brenden Fraser, Rachel Weisz, and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (so you know it’s good), in which an Egyptian corpse is resurrected (again) in an attempt to raise an ancient army of unspeakable evil, only to be destroyed (again) by our protagonists.
Naturally, we gave her a lot of grief for this. Not only is it a B-rate sequel, it is neither romantic nor comedic, making it a fairly ridiculous choice for someone’s favorite romantic comedy. For her, thought, it didn’t matter that the couple in the movie was already married with a son, had no moment of “falling in love,” or the fact that their relationship was but a minor subplot to the overall direction of the movie (you know, the whole resurrected mummy trying to destroy the world bit). What made it her favorite was the love the two had for one another in the midst of conflict, how having a child made them love each other more, and the sacrifices they were willing to make for one another.
While I stand firmly unconvinced in her assertion that this movie is a romantic comedy—let’s be clear about that… it’s ludicrous—The Mummy Returns offers a rare Hollywood example of the love of married life. When we think about “love stories,” there are a lot of movies about falling in love (e.g. How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days), and a lot of movies about old people looking back on a life well-lived in love (e.g. The Notebook, Up), but there are very few movies about growing in the love that people have already found. It’s as if people fall in love and then jump to “happily ever after,” with nothing in between. Where are the struggles? Where are sacrifices made for one another? Where is the satisfaction of raising a child? As strange as it is to admit, there is something admirable about The Mummy Returns showing that love is not something that people simply fall into and then they get old, it is something that has to be worked at, and believe it or not, can even be stronger more than a decade in.
Pope Francis echoes this idea beautifully in his latest apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia. Quoting the bishops of Chile, he writes, “the perfect families proposed by deceptive consumerist propaganda do not exist. In those families, no one grows old, there is no sickness, sorrow or death… Consumerist propaganda presents a fantasy that has nothing to do with the reality which must daily be faced by the heads of families.” He goes on to say, “Joy also grows through pain and sorrow… After such suffering and struggling together, spouses are able to experience that it was worth it, because they achieved some good, learned something as a couple, or came to appreciate what they have. Few human joys are as deep and thrilling as those experienced by two people who love one another and have achieved something as the result of a great, shared effort” (Amoris Laetitia: 130, 135).
I couldn’t agree more. As much as we popularly hear about the “honeymoon stage,” how dating and the first few years of marriage are the most exciting and so every marriage should try to hang onto it for as long as possible, people who have been happily married for a long time will say the complete opposite: the “excitement” of the first few years might have faded, but their love for one another has grown. While a story about paying bills, raising children, coordinating busy schedules, and living an overall domesticated life is not something that Hollywood producers are rushing to theatres, it can be through those things—the mundane and trivial things that couples have to work hard at to accomplish—that will build stronger bonds of love than a million romantic first dates or an endless supply of butterflies in the stomach.
As someone who is not married and does not plan to get married, I can say that the same is true about religious life as well. When I entered the Order, all of the friars were new to me, every ministry a open book of opportunities, and the very idea of living as St. Francis a romantic notion straight out of a book. It was a romantic step in my life, in a way, leaving the norms of the world to do something radical. Now, I know most of the friars, have seen all of the ministries and know how they work, and have realized that the romance of the life is lived through the mundane routine of prayer, work, and fraternity, all of which I know very well. The life I live now lacks the idealism and excitement that the first few years offered.
And that’s a good thing.
The life I live now as a friar is so much better than all the idealism and excitement of when I entered. With the passing of time, there is depth in my relationships; satisfaction in having overcome challenges; comfort in knowing what’s next; and even, despite the disappointment and frustration, a stronger assurance in my vocation that I’m in the right place. These are not things I would trade for romance I felt in the beginning, nor are they things that can be felt immediately. They take time, and they take effort.
So, just like having a conversation about favorite romantic comedies with a friend of mine, you could very easily ask me about my life as a friar, “Where’s the romance?” To that I would simply say, that in movies, in marriage, and in the life of a friar, there’s more to life than falling in love. Sometimes, we need to talk a little more about growing in the love we’ve already found.