Anthony Mary Claret, a holy and wise bishop who lived in the 19th century, described the three dimensions of the human heart, in order to be happy and complete: in relation to God, the heart of a son, to people the heart of a mother, and to oneself the heart of a judge”. He drew this thought from Fray Luis de Granada, a writer and orator who died in 1588 and was buried in the Church of Santo Domingo in Lisbon.

I believe that, day by day, we proceed in the opposite way: towards God we have the heart of distant subjects; the heart of a severe judge towards our neighbour, to whom we apply very serious sentences; and towards ourselves the heart of an excuser.

In this we are mistaken. God, indeed, either we regard Him as a Father to whom we confidently give ourselves, or He is no more than a patron to be feared or a prosecutor to be fled from. That God does not really exist; he is an atrocious idol that many people worship. I prefer to see Him as a friend of the heart, always open and generous, and to have the heart of a child towards Him.

Every man and every woman is a brother or a sister to be looked at, like a stained glass window, from the right side. In that case, we will discover in all of them works of art, qualities and virtues; we will conjugate the verb to love and its synonyms: to understand, to justify, to heal, to help, to serve, to promote, to elevate?

“I love you as much as if I were your mother”, said a little girl to her mother, in a moment of effusion. When love is incandescent lava of tenderness or forgiveness, it can only be compared to motherly love. A mother takes bread out of her mouth to give it to her children. Towards our neighbour we must have the heart of a brother or, if we wish, the heart of a mother.

Towards ourselves we tend to be too benevolent. Even for obvious mistakes we make tons of extenuating circumstances and excuses; we even think our own face is beautiful when we look in the mirror! But if we can have demands and rigours for anyone, it is certainly for ourselves, for we know well the little stone that goes deep down in our soul. A serious examination of conscience does not allow us to sleep comfortably on the couch of mediocrity. We must have the heart of a judge for ourselves.

I add a fourth dimension, related to the other beings of nature, animals and plants: the heart of a master, not of a slave; more of a manager and administrator than a dominator and absolute master; more detached and liberal than a hoarder. Respectful and careful, therefore, of air and water, of fields and mountains. As for things, there are two extremes to avoid: consumerism, which is ruin, and greed, which is selfish possession and denial of solidarity.

Creatures, after all, are our companions, friends and sisters, as their lives and ours involve each other. I fear that we treat our planet mercilessly, as has been the case in recent years, and that it does not long endure the wear and tear caused by over-exploitation and over-consumption. Only the ecological heart of all men and women will prevent the Earth from becoming uninhabitable for future generations.

I spoke recently in a heart of judge for us, but I did not say everything. We also need to be forgiving and understanding of this part of creation that is ourselves. Our own self deserves attention, respect and a continuous effort of self-improvement. We damage it many times with vices and abuses. If we do not cultivate it like a garden, the world is impoverished. He who does not love himself does not love others either.

Let us be convinced of this, my friends: improving our heart is the first step towards improving the universe.

Abílio Pina Ribeiro, cmf

(PHOTO: Debby Hudson)


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