The Kingdom of God is both an internal and external reality, the walls and ramparts of which need to be watched and guarded. Internally that kingdom is the heart of man. Externally it is the Church, the Christian family and, hopefully, an evangelized society. The protection of that larger external kingdom, however, depends on the transformation of individual hearts.
Holes are torn into the walls of the Church only because the sanctuaries of individual hearts have been breached. Even though the Church is a social, external reality that communicates supernatural life to individual souls, it has no life at all unless it is animated by the interior life of the Savior. During the itinerary of this life, the paradox remains that we cannot live without the grace of the Church, but the Church will not thrive unless we guard the grace within us. All of this depends on our connection with the Heart of Christ.
Heart to Heart Talk
We speak of the heart as though it was the whole person. For example, we personify Our Blessed Lord and His Mother in terms of their Hearts when we say: “Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us! Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us.” The heart represents the moral and spiritual center, source of unity, and principle of organization and life. It is, again, an internal reality. Just as the physical organ is literally at the center of the body, so as a symbol the heart represents all that is central to supernatural life, the interior life of prayer and union with God. It represents the highest part of man’s spirit that is most completely “transubstantiated” into the Trinitarian Communion by means of his cooperation with grace.
We freely personify the Hearts of Jesus and Mary, because the heart is also symbolic of an enclosed vessel in which all the treasure of life and grace are contained. The abundance of life, promised to us by the Lord himself, is nothing other than the fullness of His own life (cf. Jn 10:10). The fullness of grace by which the angel Gabriel names the Blessed Virgin is poured out for us in the mystery of the Incarnation and our own rebirth as children of God (Lk 1:28). At Fatima, for instance, Our Lady makes grace-filled promise to Lucia: “My Immaculate Heart will be your refuge and the way that leads you to God.”
By means of the Church that Christ established, there is an open path from the fullness of grace in Christ through Mary to the vessel of our own hearts. For those who have not yet found that grace, or who perchance, have lost it, the task is to make room, by casting out from the heart the refuse deposited there by the world, the flesh and the devil. This is the necessary prerequisite for receiving the sacraments worthily and fruitfully. For those have experienced that grace and seen it grown, unworthy though they are, their work is by no means over, for the Kingdom of God, which is the heart of man, is under constant attack.
Spiritually, the enclosed space of our hearts is not protected by flesh and bone, but by the heavenly host and by the sword of the spirit (cf. Ep. 6:17). Our Lord warns us: Fear ye not them that kill the body, and are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him that can destroy both soul and body in hell (Mt. 10:28). At the Cross, the enemy of hearts mockingly executes the transfixion of the Heart of Christ and the Soul of His Mother, believing falsely that in so doing he violated the very sanctum of the House of God. But in reality what he did was to open the floodgates of grace.
One of the paradoxes of the Cross is that the Hearts of Jesus and Mary secure the Kingdom of God by suffering and seemingly succumb to the assault of the enemy. But in reality to suffer is not to be conquered. For the enemy, death, shall be destroyed last (1 Cor 15:26), and even now in the death of Christ we are brought to life. The heart of man is protected, then, by incorporation into the mystery of the sacrificial love of Christ and the coredemptive love of the Immaculate.
Custody of the Heart
In The Soul of the Apostolate by Dom Jean-Baptiste Chautard (1858– 1935), we are counseled to practice custody of the heart, that is, to guard our hearts, by means of cultivating purity of intention and the practice of the presence of God. Religious people often find themselves “swarming like an anthill with venial sins,” or justifying their own tepidity with the righteous outrage about the state of the Church, society and “sinners,” because their deep motives for practicing religion are tainted by so much self-love and self-deception (part 5, section 4). How often do we need to stop and center ourselves on the Hearts of Jesus and Mary, begging for the strength to stay focused solely on them, to remain in their presence and to shut out every other voice to the contrary.
It is this vigilance of the heart, and only it, that brings about the rebuilding of the larger Kingdom of God. Dom Chautard makes little of grand schemes and apostolic gimmicks as means of appealing to the masses of modern men. Together with the Church he says that “God is a hidden God, Deus absconditus,” and that deep transformations among men take place by means of the revelation of that hidden supernatural character of holiness through those already so transformed. “How does this diffusion of the supernatural come about?” asks Dom Chautard:
It is the visible brilliance of sanctity, the shining-forth of that divine influx which theology commonly calls sanctifying grace; or, better still perhaps, we may say it is the result of the unutterable presence of the Divine Persons within those who They sanctify (part 4, section c.).
Dom Chautard calls this effulgence of holiness “supernatural radiation.” By means of its blast wave, the enemies of the heart and of the Church are flung back to hell. Thus, real and effective vigilance on behalf of Christ’s Church and all the souls entrusted to Her care will always depend on the defenses of our own individual hearts.
Dom Chautard was a contemplative monk, who, at the behest of Holy Mother Church, left his monastery in order to conduct Church’s work of saving souls, but he was always so wary of allowing the ego to supplant the grace of Christ. May we never fall into that trap. May we, rather, remain vigilant in the custody of our hearts, which is the only way to place the fortification of grace around the larger, external Kingdom of God.