Monday, July 15, 2013

Enlarge My Heart!

Enlarge My Heart!  Psalm 119: 32

What is the work of love in human hearts?  The Psalmist says, “I will run the way of your commandments, when you enlarge my heart.”  The translation is after Theresa of Avila and her remark in Latin: “dilitasti cor meum.” In his Prologue to the Rule St. Benedict says, “For as we advance in the religious life and faith, our hearts expand and we run the way of God’s commandments with unspeakable sweetness of love.”

It is love that expands the heart, love in all its fullness.  Not sweet sentimentality, but love that expresses itself, to use an old out of fashion word, as charity, or caritas.  That love is an active, rather than a sentimental love reaching out to others with the compassion of Jesus Christ who is incarnate in our hearts.  One of the marks of that love is commitment, a commitment to action, not passivity.

Parents, at least good parents, experience the expansion of the heart in their commitment and care for their children.  That love often bears with it a stretching that comes from the demands of a little child for comfort and care at times that are not always convenient.  Love takes you out of yourself.

Years ago I had an encounter with a priest who was having difficulty with members of his congregation.  Knowing this particular group of people I remarked, “All they want you to do is to love them.”  Then I asked, “Are you ready to do that?”  He hung his head and said, “No!”  I was to learn later that his own heart was badly wounded by a wife who was abusing prescription drugs.  Sometimes one must come to the Healer of Broken Hearts before one is able to commit to the joyful and arduous labour of love. 

Let me say as an aside, sometimes priests have difficulty with their people simply because they are difficult people.  Nothing is ever really simple.

The love that expands the hearts bears with it a certain holy detachment; one cannot love effectively if one is in turmoil over attempts to control the object of one’s love.  Love does not seek control.  When control comes in the door, love goes out the window.

The four loves: affection [love’s basic building block], brotherly love [and friendship], eros [as a desire for intimacy] and agapĂ© [the flame of charity] are only manifest within us as Christ Himself is incarnate in our human hearts.  That is to say, He is the Source of the love within us, and not we ourselves.

One implication of the incarnation of love within us is that our human hearts are manifestly imperfect, and as a result, all of our loving, a holy as the source is, is nonetheless imperfect.  It cannot be otherwise.  That is why all lovers should be very humble, knowing that even the love that expands our hearts is coloured by the shadows of our human reality.  Just because we love, doesn't mean that we are always right, or timely, in our loving, or that our love is in any way invincible. 

That is why, in speaking of the enlargement of the heart, the Psalmist confesses that he does not yet run the way of God’s commandments.  He says, “I will run the way of your commandments, when you enlarge my heart.”  The running in the way of His commandments is yet in the future.  The stretching of the heart comes first.