You’re always hurt most by those closest to you. The sharpest knives are wielded by family, religious brothers, or intimate friends, for they have a particular access to our hearts that is born of the strength of the bond between us. Through familial ties, religious profession, or the affection of friendship, we have given our hearts to imperfect men and women. Being imperfect, they will not take care of the hearts given to them—those hearts will bleed because of carelessness or ignorance or malice.
There are, of course, two easy solutions to this hurt. Either jealously guard the heart, refusing to give it away, or harden the heart so that it cannot be hurt. It isn’t difficult to refuse the bonds of family and religion and friendship, or to keep those bonds shallow and superficial. The heart locked in an iron chest is certainly safe from harm. But it is also isolated and alone, and that’s not how man is meant to live; Aristotle wrote that one who can live without society “must be either a beast or a god,” but not a man.
It’s also easy to harden the heart beyond the possibility of hurt. Bitterness and cynicism can drain the vitality out of life. A zealous stoicism can do the same, albeit with a more noble appearance, by denying the reality or importance of pain and hurt in the soul. You’ve heard the advice to simply “let it go”—but it’s impossible to always let go of the hurt without eventually letting go of the heart as well. In the end, a hardened heart is impervious not only to the hurts and evil of life, but to its joys and goodness as well.
We cannot refuse to give our hearts away, nor can we harden our hearts in preemptive defense. Both choices are self-defeating and leave us without the vitality we set out to protect. There is only one path forward—to give our hearts generously to men and women who we know will not take care of them, and to bear the wounds that inevitably follow. In this very action we are made like Christ—for what is the essence of the Sacred Heart except to be pierced by those He loved, and loved until the end? Bleeding and wounded with swords wielded by those whom we love with Christ’s love, to whom we have not hardened our hearts nor refused the gift of ourselves, our hearts become like unto His.
Image: Adam Jones, Detail of Sacred Heart in Baroque Oil Painting (CC BY-SA 3.0)