Foreword to True Heart
A. M. D. G.
“Sacred Heart of Jesus, help me to learn perfect selflessness since this is the only path to you.” These are the opening words of the Prayer of Offering to the Heart of Jesus written by Saint Claude La Colombière, the Jesuit confessor of Saint Margaret Mary to whom Our Lord revealed the mysteries of His Sacred Heart. In True Heart: A Way to Selflessness, Father William Watson, S.J., effectively makes these words his own as he charts a spiritual path from silence through self-knowledge to selflessness.
Silence prepares the way, for otherwise, the ever-increasing distractions of our age would impede our path. Noise and visual images surround us. Screen-viewing consumes much of our waking hours. Sensory overload consequently overwhelms us. Our smartphones, moreover, have outsmarted us, making us dumb. What we once retained in our memory we have now transferred to our phones and allowed them to think for us.
Keeping us wired 24/7, our cell phones have also made us more anxious and depressed. By significantly raising our stress levels, this digital cacophony is undermining our physical, mental and spiritual health. Today, the 1984 movie The Terminator seems oddly prophetic. For machines, that we have built, are, if you will, killing us. As a young adult today, you are particularly susceptible to the adverse effects of modern technology, for you have never known a world without the Internet.
In particular, social media ironically tends to make us less social and, hence, more self-centered. Such technology-driven self-centeredness is ultimately a dead end. The way out is the way to selflessness. Father Watson’s contemporary spiritual exercises in the Ignatian tradition map out for young adults a path from life-sapping self-centeredness, and the loneliness it creates, into a life-giving selflessness and connectedness to others and to the Lord.
The Christian tradition has always prized silence where the soul communes with its Creator. But today, more and more, neuroscientists, medical professionals, Silicon Valley technicians and non-religious organizations have also begun to acknowledge the benefits to be gained from meditation and “mindfulness.”
They encourage us to find technology-free spaces for the sake of our well-being. Father Watson himself invites young adults to find a quiet, technology-free place apart from this world’s constant distractions in order to gain self-knowledge in Our Lord’s company.
He counsels you to unhook “from technology so that you can hear your heart” (from the Introduction). This unhooking entails being still and knowing the God who has created us in His own Image. Jesus Himself, the visible Image of the invisible Father, shows us the way to authentic self-knowledge.
On this account, Father Watson invites you to speak prayerfully with Jesus and indeed to imitate Jesus’ own nocturnal prayer by keeping vigil during the quiet hours of the night when, in the silent sanctuary of your heart, spiritual discourse becomes most intimate.
A true heart pulsates with pure love. But sadly, if we are honest with ourselves, we will have to admit that our loves are not always pure. They are, in fact, quite often self-seeking. Even the saints lamented the times when they had fallen short in their ardent desire to love God with an undivided heart. That is why Saint Claude La Colombière himself prays: “Teach me what I must do to attain the purity of your love, the desire for which you have inspired in me. I feel powerless ever to succeed in this aim without a very exceptional light and special help that I can only expect from you.” Jesus alone gives us the grace of pure love. In giving us that grace, He also calls us to cooperate with it.
Cooperating with His grace, we enter deeply into His love for us, the source of all pure love. The experience of His selfless, crucified love unmasks our self-centeredness and moves our wounded hearts to contrition. Sorrow for our sins is the necessary first step toward true repentance and conversion. Such frank self-knowledge also entails an honest admission of our own inability — or, in Saint Claude’s words, our powerlessness — to break free, alone and unaided, from all that binds us interiorly.
Here again, we pray with Saint Claude: “Accomplish your will in me, Lord. I know that I resist it, but it seems to me that I would truly like not to resist. It is you who will have to do it all, divine Heart of Jesus Christ.” Yes, Christ’s grace alone paves the pathway to freedom.
This journey to selflessness, this journey to discover our true heart in the True Heart of Jesus, leads us “to rest and find a new way to live our life” (from the Introduction). Whereas self-centeredness is always a matter of our turning away from God, the journey, to which Father Watson invites his readers, entails an ever more complete turning toward God. Only in that “turning toward,” which begins in grace, does Jesus’ light dispel our darkness and the peace, that He alone can give, abide within us.
This world’s "peace” only anesthetizes us and nothing more. The blue light shining from the screens, that we hold in our hands or before which we sit, saps our energy rather than restores our strength. It hypnotizes rather than illuminates.
By diverting its gaze from these seductive rays, the true heart finds peace when it beholds Christ and bathes in His light. The true heart gladly acknowledges before Jesus in the words of Saint Claude La Colombière that “the glory of my sanctification will be yours alone, and it is for that reason alone that I wish to desire perfection.” What is this desired perfection? It is to rest in God. As Saint Augustine of Hippo eloquently observes in his Confessions, because God has created us for Himself, our hearts remain restless until they rest in Him. Truly, in the end, only the selfless heart experiences enduring peace.
True Heart: A Way to Selflessness is a journey worth taking. For those of you who undertake it wholeheartedly, it will turn out to be a marvelous, spiritually life-giving adventure.
These spiritual exercises are indeed a treasure map to a treasure buried in the field of your innermost self. That treasure, placed there by God in whose Image we have been created, is the gift of Christ’s peace experienced both in time and for all eternity.
Father Joseph Carola, S.J.
Gregorian University, Rome, 21 January 2019
Memorial of Saint Agnes, Roman Virgin and Martyr