St. Josemaría Escrivá once said,
“Put your heart aside. Duty comes first. But when fulfilling your duty, put your heart into it. It helps.”
Semper fi, do or die
Such a crucial insight! For indeed, as Jeremiah reminds us, the heart is a fickle thing:
More tortuous than all else is the human heart, beyond remedy; who can understand it? — Jer 17:10
In fact, in a culture that locates “authenticity” largely in the emotional life, the life of “feelings,” the counsel is often given that if you don’t feel good about what you’re doing – marriage, a job, or any commitment – you should simply move on to find something more authentic that “feels right” or “speaks to your heart.”
The problem, though, is that life commitments will always lead us to commute in and out of good feelings of fulfillment or heartfelt passion. This makes of the emotive heart a capricious navigational compass. If followed without the clear guidance of reason carried out by acts of the will, this compass will set us adrift forever in shallow and perilous waters.
While I am convinced that emotional intelligence has much to offer us in terms of insight into ourselves and others, it’s a poor judge of what is required of us to rightly fulfill the often hard, tedious, mundane, and binding demands that flow from our chosen commitments.
Saints became saints not because they always felt committed to God’s will, but because they did His will regardless of how they felt. In fact, the greatest acts of virtue often are enacted amid the turbulent waters of an emotional storm. “I felt afraid,” a priest once told teens at a retreat regarding his decision to enter Seminary, “but I did courage.” A great turn of phrase.
Though we pray and work for the coincidence of heart and duty, of feeling and willing, duty comes first. When we “nakedly” choose fidelity to what is required of us by our commitments, sans feeling authentic, we are faithful. And God rewards fidelity, not feeling. As Jeremiah again says,
I, the LORD, alone probe the mind and test the heart, To reward everyone according to his ways, according to the merit of his deeds. — Jer 17:11
St. Thomas Aquinas’ sister once asked him how to become a saint. His answer, in true Thomas fashion, sums it all up in two words:
Hope in Him
That said, I find that often after I choose for duty’s sake against the inner tide, my heart soon clothes my inner nakedness and rewards me with a new song to the Lord.
The Lord Himself walked this way, nakedly choosing love in the Garden and on the Tree. But He was soon clothed by His Father in a new and fiery Heart on the third day.
Let us place our hope, even in our heartless love, in the Father of all consolation and ask that He kindle in our hearts the fire of His love.