The Heart Has Its Reasons – Looking Back Looking Ahead
What if we could look ahead while still looking back? What if hard-won insight was ours to use, when we needed it? This short book puts such possibilities within our reach.
In a series of short articles, the author simplifies important thoughts relating to God, oneself and others. These insights gained with age and experience, nudge us to find a new path. Then the rest of the journey becomes transforming. We can set right things that went wrong, and strengthen things that turned out right. With God in the center, others in their rightful place, and we striving harder, our relations could regain the luster they once had. When that happens, we can look at life through the window of grace – to look up and see stars and not look down to see mud – and be blessed.
The theme of the heart throbs in two parts: one, love yourself and bleed for others ; two, love God above all else. The author does not stop at asking questions, in a simple and direct style he answers them, without preaching. Journey with him to look upon a new horizon!
Here is a book – The Heart Has Its Reasons, Looking Back Looking Ahead – that makes you stop to ponder and take with you a thought or two. Let us sample the fare it offers:
“When age sets in thoughts that did not occur to us in youth visit us. We redefine relationships that we took for granted. We take up activities that we were too busy to perform when we were young; we find pleasure in the ordinary things of life and begin to value life even as we prepare to say farewell. It is a time of awakening, a time of discovery.”
“Let us consider our relationships because our greatest wealth is not measured in terms of riches, but relationships; and the quality of life will come down to the contribution we make to building and enriching relationships.”
“When we repent the misdeeds of our past we can resolve to find new meaning in the future.”
Such eye-opening, down to earth and challenging thoughts are strung together in this book. It reflects the thinking habit and intellectual acumen of Ignatius Fernandez. A glimpse at some of the titles of the chapters will convince us of the relevance of this book:
Reflections on the year gone by
A visit to the cemetery
Does evil serve a purpose?
How do we respond to those who offend us?
The best things in life are free
Playing catch-up with God!
The thoughts are of Christian inspiration and stimulating, the language is mellifluous and racy, and the book makes pleasant reading. This is a valuable book that can surely help the interested reader towards betterment of self and of society, and for that reason the author deserves the gratitude of the reading public. I wish very many people profit from this treasure chest.
Dr George Kaitholil ssp,
Author and former General Editor of St Pauls and Better Yourself Books
It is tough to follow Christ
There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man and only God can fill it. Blaise Pascal
Clarence and Robert McClendon were two Christian brothers who did well in their careers. Robert was a prominent lawyer and Clarence was the author of a popular book. Clarence was deeply involved with the interracial action-groups of the 1950s and 60s, in Georgia, USA. Once Clarence asked Robert, now a politician, for legal help, which he refused, because his political ambitions would be jeopardized. To rationalize his refusal, Robert told his brother: I follow Jesus up to a point. I follow him to the cross, but not on the cross. I am not getting myself crucified. To which Clarence replied: Robert, you are not a follower of Jesus; you are only an admirer of his.
Perhaps Clarence could repeat those words to us. We bear the name of Christ, Christians, but prefer to formulate our own code. In Europe, the Christmas Holidays are called the Winter Holidays. Why? Ostensibly, they do not want to wound the sentiments of people of other religions. Perhaps some segments of Christians, in other parts of the world, have joined their European brothers in switching to the changed terminology, for the same reason.
The Hindus have not changed their festival Diwali to something more akin to Christian idiom. The Muslims have not renamed Ramzan to appease their Christian brothers. Why are we ashamed of the word Christmas? Is it because we are ashamed of being identified as Christians? To those of us, who are embarrassed of being Christians, Jesus has a warning. In Matt. 10:32, He says that in the presence of His Father He will not acknowledge those who are ashamed of Him, in the eyes of men. The Master never makes empty threats. Do we hear the alarm bell?
We are Christians, but will not attend Church Services. A Christian young man I know tells me that he goes to Sunday morning service only when there are no good movies on TV. Some offer an excuse for their non-Christian attitude. They say that they are scandalized by the behavior of some Pastor/Priest and dissociate themselves from anything Christian. Are we Christian because of some Priest/Pastor, or even because of the Pope? We are Christian because of Christ, who is sinless and blameless. Do we stop using our family name or stay disconnected because of some black sheep in the fold? We refer to Biblical Stories as Christian Legends to distance ourselves from their veracity. We are Christians who do not want to profess Christian beliefs. Do we not profess our political affiliations? Democrat or Republican (USA), Labor or Conservative (UK), Congress or BJP (India)? We join elite clubs and are proud of our membership. We work for Fortune 500 Companies and will let others know of the connection. But Christ, the Son of God, we leave out in the cold. We exclude Him from our network. Alone, He will hang on that cross.
We try to run away from Him, but He comes panting after us, as The Hound of Heaven, whom Francis Thompson faithfully portrayed. In an unhurrying chase, at an unperturbed pace, He will not give up following us. Gently, He reminds us, all things betray thee, who betrayest me. We try to hide from Him, but He will seek us out. We shut our ears to His words, but He will play music that we cannot silence. We close our eyes to Him, but He will tenderly lift our hands off them, to lovingly gaze into our troubled eyes. What a Christ we have! Yet, we are ashamed of acknowledging Him. Would we do to our friends, what we do to Him, the truest of all?
In my reckoning there are a few reasons why we behave the way we do.
1) We are the instant people who demand instant gratification. We want Him to be the genie we can command. He would willingly oblige us, if only all our wishes were for our good. Often, we desire that which will harm us. He sees it; we don’t. So, He shuts some doors through which we wish to enter and opens new doors, if only we have eyes to see.
2) We want to be in control, to march to our drumbeat. To surrender, to submit are against our grain. We like to be in charge of our lives; and extend that power by taking control of Him. The paradox is that He does not want to control us. He will not place limits on His gift of free will. Of our own, if we love Him and seek His protection, He will accept our friendship, and not a forced alliance.
3) We mistake His goodness for weakness, because He does not react even when we act in defiance or choose to ignore Him. His Infinite Patience and Forgiveness are never tested. For that very reason, we tend to take Him for granted.
4) We enthrone false gods in our hearts. Wealth, Power, Fame and Pleasure are some of the deities we enshrine, dislodging the rightful owner. Does He complain? No, He waits for the time we will turn away from those false gods and return to Him, like the Prodigal son. In a question that also holds the answer, Job (Old Tesrament) asks: Has anyone resisted Him and found peace? No wonder, the scholarly Saint Augustine wrote: Our hearts were made for you, O God, and they shall not rest until they rest in you.
Mistakenly we believe that we are doing Him a favor when we pray or live a life by The Book. Hugh Blair exposes our folly: It is for the sake of man, not of God, that worship and prayer are required; not that God may be rendered more glorious, but that man may be made better. We need to reflect on Hugh Blair’s words, because a Perfect God needs nothing from us. He would not be God if He needed anything from us. He is complete in all respects. With unmatched love He persuades us to reform for our sakes, not His.
How do we reform? By being the salt of the earth, and light to the world. Salt dissolves in food to lend it taste and flavor. Light dispels darkness. Like salt, when we make ourselves useful to others, and as shining examples, when we shed light for others, we become lovable. And when we become lovable, we can be sure that Jesus’ love is in us. Aptly, Bishop Fulton Sheen explains what that means: When the Lord puts His love in us, then we become lovable.
There is no doubt that it is tough to follow Christ, but the rewards far outweigh the effort and the peace that comes from it cannot be matched. Ordinary people have done it. Are we less?
A visit to the cemetery
Oh, heart, if one should say to you that the soul perishes like the body, answer that the flower withers, but the seed remains. This is the law of God. Kahlil Gibran.
At the best of times, a walk in a cemetery is not a stimulating exercise. It is an eerie and spooky place. Ghosts make unearthly noises, it is said, as they roam from tomb to tomb. Surely, not a nice place to visit!
Despite these warnings, I ventured into the cemetery alone. On earlier visits I had others with me. I found my way to the spot where my beloved parents were laid to rest. As I stood at the foot of their graves – side by side – and prayed for the repose of their souls, my eyes fell upon the epitaphs inscribed on the granite slabs. My father’s had the words: He gave even when it hurt, and my mother’s: A life of love.
I had read those words many times before; now they gave me a new insight – those words summed up their lives and were not just trite tributes. My father gave until he had nothing left – money, time and effort. Those who came to him did not go empty handed. Even when he was cheated, by con men, he would console us: He needed the money more than I. Many stories of acts of charity were told to us after his death. The words of Erich Fromm came back to me: Not he who has much is rich, but he who gives much. Indeed, my father was rich. I felt blessed to be his son. If only I could open my heart, like he did!
My mother was the personification of love. She made no difference between family and friends, and between friends and acquaintances. She reached out to all, not stopping to consider the cost. She rejoiced in giving. How I wish that a spark of her love inflamed me!
As I stood lost in thought, my eyes traveled to an adjoining tombstone. That man died 20 years ago. The inscription on the slab stated that he had left behind a sorrowing wife and two children. Perhaps they were a happy family. Now he lay embalmed in the soundless depth of their affection. Next to him was another. This stone gave no clue of family or friends who grieved for him. Was he a loner? Was there no one to pray for him? Dying friendless on earth, did his soul fly free like a bird over endless seas? Right next to him was a small slab – that of a five-year-old child. There were no words that followed her name. Were her parents so full of sorrow that they found no words to express their grief? Perhaps they dreamed that her life would be like Nature’s progression – seeds to sprouts, buds to blossoms and flowers to fruits. When she was born the air was filled with the perfume of promise. Then the winds of change blew away the fragrance, leaving her parents with only the smell of damp earth.
As I looked around, I saw row upon row of tombstones – so many dead and so many stories buried in silent tribute – keepsakes for heaven. With Kahlil Gibran, I will affirm that the soul does not perish; it will live on forever. One day the bodies that once housed indomitable spirits will come alive and praise their Creator. For now, I imagine that they have taken abode in the stars and shed their gentle light as a sign of love for us, who await our turn to occupy other stars. We know with our minds, but believe with our feelings. Standing there I believed that the love of my parents still enveloped me. The gentle light from the stars that is home to them brightens my path. That would not change with time.
Like the beggar who mistakenly comes to his own door to beg, I stopped at my door – at my life. What kind of life was I leading? Surveying the debris that surrounded me of failings and failures, I felt sick in my heart. Resources and opportunities were given to me in plenty, but I squandered most of them. After many years there was not much to show for a life well spent. As indolent hands turned the pages of the book of life, I found many pages were blank. And, like the slave in the Parable that Jesus told, I too buried many of the talents that were given to me. I have few gains to report – only promises that were not kept and potential lying fallow. Was mine an unfulfilled life, I pondered?
Even in my reverie, I figured that there was no point in mourning the past. I had to find the courage to beg God for unconditional forgiveness and start anew using the gifts that He had given me. Without letting the river of regret drown its banks, I had to cling to hope and find safety in the thought that tomorrow is another day; that there is hope as long as my dreams are stronger than my memories. I could achieve much if I tried. The irony is that, the more you come to terms with death, the more you learn to live. To gain that insight a visit to the cemetery turned out to be a good idea.