We are continuing our discussion of courtship and the maturation of a couple's relationship while mutually discerning if God might be calling them to marriage. Courtship is also the time to begin transforming the love of attraction which brings the couple together initially into heroic love. Heroic love is what we are made for; it is the only thing that will ultimately satisfy us. However, we live in a time when such love is considered impossible, unwise, unrealistic... We need to overcome this negative influence of contemporary society. We would like to suggest that an ancient approach to relationships between men and women is still relevant. It has helped countless generations to foster an attitude of heroism in complementary relationships.
This tradition, which arose toward the end of the first millennium, is called chivalry. Chivalry might be characterized as a school for forming men and women in heroic love. Here’s why. Everyone is created by God with an insatiable desire to be a hero. Unfortunately, selfishness, cowardice, social pressure and laziness diminish our awareness of this desire. We see the desire to be a hero manifested early in young children who try to emulate the superheroes they see in the media. Young boys generally are the most attracted to a heroism they associate with bravery. Young girls tend more to be attracted to the heroine who is loved for her care and compassion for others; particularly strong is the image of a princess who is loved for her inward and outward beauty.
As we age, we tend to suppress our awareness of this desire to be heroic. Yet, the desire is written deep in the heart of every woman and man because it is our path to fulfillment. If we are to fulfill ourselves we must recognize our need for heroism. Even more importantly, we need to understand more precisely what ultimately satisfies this need. The heroism we are most often presented with in poplar media is usually only one or another fruit of real heroism (courage, confidence, interior strength, etc.). Authentic heroism, however, is selfless love.
Because we are made in the image of God, Who is total Self-giving love, there is nothing we can do to change the fact that we can only fulfill ourselves by selflessly giving ourselves away. That is, we can satisfy our innate urge to love by selflessly willing and acting for the integral (body and soul) good of others. If we do not, the consequence is that we certainly will not fulfill ourselves. Rather, to the degree we fail in this selflessness, we will increasingly turn inward in selfishness. We will slowly come to realize that we are alone, and many of us will find ourselves despairing of ever finding the happiness for which we continually search. Since we cannot change our nature as human beings, if we wish to find fulfillment we have no other option than to recognize the truth of who we are and what we are made for, and then to get on with the work of transforming our attitudes, actions and character in order to conform ourselves to this truth. Chivalry is the school for this work.