It may seem to be a very strange phrase, The Education of the Heart. We usually think that education is a function of the mind and the intellect. Yet that is a very partial view of education. Learning one’s ABCs is certainly important, but learning to love and be a faithful human being, faithful to God and to others, is even more important.
The heart also needs to be educated. Learning how to love, when to love and the purpose of loving is as important as multiplication tables.
It also begins earlier than the kind of learning that happens in the classroom. It begins in the home.
Recently I visited a family that moved from the parish so that they can raise a family closer to the help of family members in their extended families. They had their first child recently. It was a beautiful visit. They desired a blessing for their new home, being a family of great and truly Catholic faith. Their infant daughter was involved in the blessing. She watched and took everything in. She saw the devotion of Mom and Dad and the new experience of welcoming a strange looking figure in black (me) to perform the ritual.
Infants are learning machines! They learn faster and more comprehensively than we adults, who lose this capacity as we mature. She was ‘taking in’ every last detail. Her heart was being taught about the importance of God and the need for a widening of the perspective of family. This strange figure in black was a ‘holy one’ (i.e. a priest) who came and blessed their most intimate places of the home with the presence of God.
This is just a small example of how a young heart can be educated. This education is mainly done by parents in a thousand ways each day.
But this education of the heart is not just the task of parents for their children. It is a lifelong process of coming to a maturity of heart that changes while a person ages and continues to develop over one’s whole lifetime. Essentially, this growing consciousness is the task of prayer.
By prayer I do not mean the recitation of memorized prayers like the Our Father and Hail Mary. This definitely has a place, but it is not what I mean. By the life of prayer, I mean the daily and continual contact with God that spans all the emotions and takes in all the events of one’s life, planned and unplanned. It is an organic and totally necessary growth that has highs and lows, ecstasies and agonies, but represents an ongoing fidelity to the Lord. Within this process of prayer, we are never alone; we develop and grow under the guidance of God Himself. One can also have a spiritual interpreter who can help us make sense of this. We call this person a ‘spiritual director’. Not everyone is lucky enough to have such a person, but that does not mean that the real spiritual director (the Holy Spirit) is not indeed active and productive in each willing human heart.
Like all education, the education of the heart is a slow and organic process. There are twists and turns, high points and low points. There may be no better spiritual writer who has illustrated this pathway than St. Teresa of Avila. To read her works is to welcome this amazing Castilian woman into one’s home. Her vibrant and affecting prose make this education of the heart deeply interesting and marvelously appealing. Her personality jumps off the page.
But in reading saints like Teresa, we must always remember that Jesus is our true Rabbi or Teacher (this was the only title He seemed to accept during His earthly life). Our task is to become completely responsive to the daily instruction that Christ gives us through the thoughts and events that we experience each day. He is a marvelous Teacher who knows each of His students very well and adapts all He wishes to convey to the individual capacities and needs that He knows us to possess.
Our continual stance needs to be a docility that works with His input in the daily education of our hearts.
We must learn to love Him and each other. It is the most important lesson of life.
“Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.” – Psalm 25:5
“I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.” – Psalm 32:8