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IV: Head, Heart, and Hands: to Know, to Love to Serve


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We must always be guided by reason, to see reality around us with clarity, as it truly is, not as we might want it to be. That is the role of the intellect, and without that we lose touch with the truth. Truth is objective. It is real. We do not make it up. If we concoct for ourselves a world of “my subjective truth”, disconnected from the objective truth that resists our efforts at manipulation, then we are deluded, and our personal life and the life of society will eventually crumble. Such a life is unhinged from the objective reality of who we are, who God is, and what the world is. So the commitment of the intellect to truth is fundamental.

But while clarity of the intellect is essential, it is not sufficient. We also need the will: it is not enough to see clearly what is real and true; we also need to act on that understanding. We are not just well-informed spectators. So the will is also essential.

But intellect and will, while essential, are not sufficient. Dietrich von Hildebrand, in his wonderful book, The Heart: An Analysis of Human and Divine Affectivity (South Bend: St. Augustine’s Press, 2007) points out that we also need the heart: the intimate, personal and human center of our living relationship with others, and of our sense of self: we are affective as well as intellectual and decisive. All three must be working in harmony.

In the spirituality of the Sacred Heart devotion that essential affectivity and personal relational warmth, and zealous energy, works in harmony with intellect and will. The devotion is rooted in intellectual reflection upon the Gospel encounter with Jesus, and the doctrine of the incarnation; this leads to deep personal love for Jesus which bears fruit in a life of decisive Christian action.

We need to think clearly, and we need to act decisively, but Christianity that is only intellectual is sterile, and Christianity that is only an exercise of the will in action is mere busyness, while Christianity that is merely emotional leads to sentimental self-indulgence. Intellect and action without relational love are fruitless, and can be destructive, but in devotion to the Sacred Heart intellect, affectivity, and will are harmoniously joined: head, heart, and hands. The Sacred Heart symbolizes the personal love of Jesus for each of us, and we respond with an intense personal love for Jesus, and a commitment to show to others by our actions the love Jesus shows to us.

As the famous prayer of Saint Richard of Chichester says: “O Lord, three things I pray: to see you more clearly, to love you more dearly, to follow you more nearly, day by day.” Devotion to the Sacred Heart helps us, day by day, to see, love, and follow Jesus.


For Reflection:

  1. What are the differences between the intellect, will and the heart? Why is it essential for a Christian to consider all three aspects of the human person?
  2. “We are not just well-informed spectators.” In what ways have I (or can I) put my understanding of the faith into action?
  3. How can the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus encourage a more harmonious and complete relationship among intellect, will and heart?