Arts and Culture

Where Are Our Hearts?

11th in a series

SHORTLY BEFORE I sat down to write this column, the expression, “Their heart is not in it,” came into my head. People use the expression to indicate that people are not performing with much interest or effort or enthusiasm. When our experience leads us to that judgment, we suspect that something is wrong. Whenever the expression is being used in relation to a particular activity, it always means that ought to be present in order to achieve the desired result. The expression might refer to an athlete, student, physician or a lawyer  who is not enthusiastic about what he or she is doing.

In his wonderful apostolic exhortation, “Rejoice and Be Glad,” Pope Francis makes some very provocative statements about the Beatitude, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” He writes:

“This Beatitude speaks of those whose hearts are simple, pure and undefiled, for a heart capable of love admits nothing that might harm, weaken or endanger that love. The Bible uses the heart to describe our real intentions, the things we truly seek and desire, apart from all appearances.”

What Pope Francis is stressing is very important. What moves us into the future? What drives us? What really interests us? What, to use a colloquial expression, turns us on? Even as I write these words I am more aware how important it is to regularly examine our conscience and/or to have someone with whom we can discuss our lives, especially in relation to what we believe about God. For example, I am a relatively busy person. I find it difficult to slow down. But how often do I evaluate whatever “religious acts” I perform in relation to why I am doing them? I know the answer to that question is “Not enough!”

The more I reflect on Pope Francis’ reflections on the heart, the more I think that by the heart he means the deepest level of the self. The heart is who a person really is, beyond appearances and perhaps even beyond the self- image a person might have of himself or herself. By the heart is meant the unique center of the self.

I very much like the view of Pope Francis that – to the extent that someone is pure in heart – that person is careful to try to live animated, energized and motivated by that love. I believe I have met such people. Of course only God can read a person’s heart but I have observed people whose lives seem basically directed by their love for God and they do not wish to do anything that might endanger that love relationship. One reason Pope Francis’ exhortation is so important and inspiring is that he has broadened and deepened our view of holiness. He encourages us to recall all the people whom we have known who lived unselfishly. Their lives seemed to have had a kind of integrity, a kind of depth. Their lives seemed centered on what was most valuable and important. They seemed to be in touch with what really matters.

I think immediately of my parents and sister. I don’t think my belief that they are with God in heaven is some sentimental wish on my part. Of course like everyone, except Jesus and Mary, they were sinners, but they were also exceptionally unselfish people. Pope Francis has helped me to see that to be holy, a person does not have to perform some earth-shaking action like being a martyr and dying as a witness to faith. A life of unselfish love is a strong sign of holiness.

Pope Francis writes the following: “Certainly there can be no love without works of love, but this Beatitude reminds us that the Lord expects a commitment to our brothers and sisters that comes from the heart! For ‘if I give away all I have and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have no love, I gain nothing’ (l Cor: 13:3). In Matthew’s Gospel too, we see that what proceeds from the heart is what defiles a person (cf. 15: 18), for from the heart come murder, theft, false witness, and other evil deeds (cf. 15:19). From the heart’s intentions come the desires and the deepest decisions that determine our actions…

Keeping a heart free from all that tarnishes love: that is holiness.”

Writing this series of columns about the Holy Father’s exhortation has been a blessing for me. I am hoping readers will be moved to read and re-read the exhortation.

Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica. He presents two 15-minute talks from his 24-part lecture series on the Catholic Novel, every Tuesday at 9 p.m. on NET-TV.

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