March 5, 2011

Boldly Entering the Heart of Another

Catherine de Hueck Doherty believed the Lord told her to boldly go into the hearts of others.  She could only do so if she committed herself to a life of mercy - which she did.   But she also needed most of all a gift from God which our tradition calls the Gift of Counsel, a gift given at baptism and confirmation, a gift renewed and deepened by prayer.  

We are normally told that the gift of counsel is when the Holy Spirit prompts us to do the right thing in a tricky situation.  True enough.  But St. Thomas understood this virtue as deeply related to mercy.  It is a gift that lets us see the plight of another, the misery that they suffer in their heart.  We need to be able to see this, to understand it a little, if we are to be merciful at all.  

In the mystical tradition, there are those who can even "read" the hearts of others.  Padre Pio had this gift - and I have heard accounts of Catherine de Hueck which suggest she was blest with this special charism as well.  They know secret sorrows that someone is trying to hide - and they speak the truth about them to help people face their situation with new courage.  But the gift of reading hearts, as extraordinary as it is, has its basis in this more common experience - the heart piercing prompting of the Holy Spirit which will not allow us to remain indifferent about the plight of another.  While this gift does not allow us usually to "read" what someone is trying to hide - it does help us to see things that people may not know they are communicating.  It operates in the order of mercy - for mercy's sake.  Bot h Padre Pio and the Baroness of Madonna House lived for mercy, followed the promptings of the Holy Spirit - because they lived lives of deep prayer.

Mercy is love that suffers the misery of another to affirm their dignity.  This is what the Father of the prodigal son did.  He saw his son's plight from a long way off, and his son's loss of dignity pierced him to the heart.  So he ran to his son to restore him to his household - to give him back a little of the dignity he lost.  From the outside, it looks like the father is allowing himself to be taken advantage of - but from the inside we have a son who trusts his father enough to try to return and a father who loves his son so much that no other return than his son's full return into the household is acceptable.  He repeats the action of going out to restore the dignity of his sons - twice.  Similarly, the samaritan who sees his beaten and nearly dead enemy as his neighbor.  His heart is pierced so deeply by his neighbor's plight, it is not enough for him to bring him into safe harbor.  He pays all his neighbor's debts, concerned for his complete restoration.  In both cases, the merciful lose themselves in the plight of the one they love - and their love looks squandered from the outside.  But with the gift of counsel - God helps us to see what is really going on, and when we see things from the Lord's perspective, when we accept his counsel, we cannot have it any other way.  His gift of counsel not only helps us choose what is right in a tricky situation - it helps us choose what is merciful, what helps restore our neighbor's dignity.