There is no death on earth so severe as the death of the heart.
There’s also nothing as beautiful on earth as living life to the fullest, embracing equally both joys and sorrows. We see this so often in the lives of little children, whose little hearts are open and alive — and often far surpass adults in forgiveness, sensitivity, sacrificial love, and concern for others. They are also open to hearing God, who calls us to listen to His voice, “Oh, that today you would hear his voice: ‘Harden not your hearts as at the rebellion.’” (Hebrews 3:15) This sometimes means embracing things unpleasant, risky, terrifying, or painful. Good things are never far from the bad, however, and it is important to remember that in all things, trusting Him, we shall not waver. For death of the heart brings about death of the soul; and a living heart gives sustenance to the spirit.
We are bound both as animals and as immortal souls to practice virtue: controlling our passions; exercising restraint over the impulses of the flesh; reining in our desires; eradicating the eagerness of concupiscence — these are some of the disciplines required in order to live a virtuous life.
We are also bound to love: opening our hearts fully and feeling pain, experiencing joy, knowing love, recognizing hate and fear, these are passions of the human heart. Without open hearts, we are not fully embracing our humanity, and something in us dies. In the words of a wise little girl, “As long as we love, we live. And if we don’t love, we die.” (Excerpt of a letter written to Fulton J. Sheen by the mother of a 4yr old girl who faithfully watched Bishop Sheen’s “Life is Worth Living” televised series. Found at the 3-minute mark in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FS3o3n06d9k)
However, it takes courage and reasoned control of the passions to really experience them rightly; and too often, we allow fear of suffering to harden and chill our hearts. Too often, we fall back on the ability to cite laws. It can be said that in efforts to restrain the passions, many easily lose heart altogether.
We are made of flesh and blood, not stone and mortar; we are images of God, not statues of rock. The command to love one another cannot be carried out by the letter of the law alone; for the greatest command finds its foundation not in measured letters, but in love. “So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13)
Too often, Christians justify their tongue-lashings of others by citing “fraternal correction” and the “charity of rebuking one in sin.” Without love, all our lofty knowledge and words are no more than unfruitful noise. “If I speak with the tongues of men, and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. “ (1 Corinthians 13:1 DRA) So in all our deeds, let us remain fully in God’s love — which embraces such emotions such as sympathy, fear, joy, and sorrow when the good of another is at hand. These passions can help us, in fact, love more deeply.
Unless we sense our place in another’s need, another’s quirks, another’s sufferings, another’s wrongs, another’s betrayals, another’s want, we cannot help fill those empty areas with the food of truth and the balm of love. Truly good deeds are sprung forth from the heart, wherein we find that wellspring of life and goodness. From an open heart, we may dispense cool, fresh water for quenching the thirsts of need. “With all watchfulness keep thy heart, because life issueth out from it.” (Proverbs 4:23)
The problem, however, is that we too often allow an easy substitute for the balanced practice of both categories. We allow the ease of establishing limits to become lines over which none of the sufferings of real love may pass. For love sometimes hurts; it requires us to feel pains that only love can feel. By the same token, giving love to the fullest possible extent — with our hearts centered on God, is limitless! When our hearts are wide open, unrestrained in our sympathy for our brothers and sisters — we become incapable of shutting out true and righteous passion.
It is one thing to be able to spout off all the rules, regulations, dogmas, and philosophies (and thank God for those who have studied and know these higher things) but it cannot be of little coincidence that Jesus warned the philosophers, “But woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; because you shut the kingdom of heaven against men, for you yourselves do not enter in; and those that are going in, you suffer not to enter.” (Matthew 23:13) and “Beware of the scribes, who love to walk in long robes, and to be saluted in the marketplace, and to sit in the first chairs, in the synagogues, and to have the highest places at suppers: who devour the houses of widows under the pretence of long prayer: these shall receive greater judgment.” (Mark 12:38-40)
For our sakes, Jesus cried from the cross words of assurance, “And Jesus said to him: Amen I say to thee, this day thou shalt be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43) of forgiveness, “And Jesus said: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. But they, dividing his garments, cast lots.” (Luke 23:34) and he declared his utter and wholehearted desire to save us with the life-giving waters of his own Sacred Heart, “… I thirst.” (John 19:28)
Jesus expressed anger over the fig tree, the sellers in the temple, compassion for children, repeated exhortations to lovers of the law to go beyond letters and expand the spirit of love into their lives. Christ healed on the sabbath; dared to speak to an enemy Samaritan woman, saved an adulteress from stoning; accepted the expensive anointing from Mary who washed his feet with her tears and dried them with her hair despite the protests of Judas. We see in Christ not an unfeeling, distant-gazing stoic zombie of a man spewing words of wisdom, but a God of Love fully divine and also fully human, with a divinely governed, fully-opened heart. He fully embraced humanity. Think about that! What feeling! What emotion we find in the words and life of Christ!
Emotion, properly placed, is a holy thing. It bonds, binds, and brings others closer to God, the source of love in our hearts. He lives inside our hearts with such flaming brightness that all those in darkness are drawn towards His light in us; from thence, it is our duty to continue in love towards our neighbor.
We are more than robots following the law. We are children of God and brothers in Christ; we are fully human; we have a heart created by God. Let us unbind the chains, take down the walls within which we hide from humanity, and lay open our whole selves in total abandonment to whatever situation God places before us. For by opening our hearts to one another in love, we purify our souls. “Purifying your souls in the obedience of charity, with a brotherly love, from a sincere heart love one another earnestly.” (1 Peter 1:22)
So to conclude, embrace life! Take the bad with the good in order to experience them all fully. Be passionate about your faith and your knowledge; be open to your spouse, your children, your neighbors, your family; be open to heartache, to fear, to betrayal, to anger, to joy. Be passionate about life, remembering, “As long as we love, we live. And if we don’t love, we die.”
Photography: Emily Byrne