The heart … center of decision
When God made man and woman, He established us as the crown of His creation. He molded our hearts for happiness and freedom so that we could know Him and discern His presence, love Him and imitate Him, and so worship Him and share fellowship with Him in this life and into eternity. Our heart, therefore, requires purity, an absence of sin, so that it can pursue God and His goodness.
But what is the biblical notion of the heart? Obviously it is more than just the physical organ responsible for the movement of blood throughout our bodies. And, yes, while certainly more is intended than mere biology, it should be noted that it’s precisely because of the function and the importance of the physical heart that the Bible uses it as such a sacred image. As the physical heart moves blood throughout our bodies, so the spiritual heart moves grace and goodness throughout our souls.
With this understanding, what more is intended by the word “heart”? In the Bible, the heart is the dwelling place where we reside with ourselves; it’s where each of us “lives.” It is the place to which we can withdraw in moments of reflection, joy, or sorrow. Spiritually, the heart is seen as our hidden center. It has reasons beyond the grasp of our minds, and according to biblical wisdom, it is only the Spirit of God that can plumb the depths of our heart. As the prophet Jeremiah teaches: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it? I the Lord search the mind and test the heart, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings” (Jer 17:9-10).
And St. Paul confirms the role of the Holy Spirit: “For what person knows a man’s thoughts except the spirit of the man which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” (1 Cor 2:11).
Perhaps it is best to say the heart is the place of decision. It’s where we encounter God and choose Him, and where we renew our covenant with Him. The heart is the crucible, the crossroad, and the place of conversion. In order for it to help us see God, our heart must be pure. Such purity begins with a freedom from sin and [freedom from] attraction to evil and darkness.
Excerpt by Fr. Jeffrey Kirby, STD from Chapter 6 , “Pure In Heart,” of his book Kingdom of Happiness: Living the Beatitudes in Everyday Life (Charlotte: Saint Benedict Press, 2017), pp. 98-100 – “What Is the Heart?”. www.SaintBenedictPress.com
FATHER JEFF KIRBY is the parish priest of Our Lady of Grace Parish in Indian Land, SC. He holds a doctorate in moral theology from Holy Cross University (Rome) and a master of arts in philosophy from Franciscan University of Steubenville. He serves as adjunct professor of theology at Belmont Abbey College and Pontifex University. He’s written several books, including Lord, Teach Us to Pray and Kingdom of Happiness: Living the Beatitudes in Everyday Life. frkirby.com
The heart is the dwelling place where I am, where I live; according to the Semitic or Biblical expression, the heart is the place ‘to which I withdraw.’ The heart is our hidden center, beyond the grasp of our reason and of others; only the Spirit of God can fathom the human heart and know it fully. The heart is the place of decision, deeper than our psychic drives. It is the place of truth, where we choose life or death. It is the place of encounter, because as image of God we live in relation: it is the place of covenant. Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2563