26 May 2011

Enlargement of the Heart

We have a little saying around the monastery which is said mostly in jest -- but sincerely nonetheless -- that we use when someone performs an act of charity which is small in nature and (usually) visible to others. For example, if a sister is getting dessert at a meal and there is only one cookie left, one sister might offer it to the another. The beneficiary of the cookie might smile gratefully and say, "Oh sister, thank you! Be careful: you might die of an enlarged heart!" It is a sweet way of acknowledging the kind deed but it points to something bigger: we should all strive to die of an enlarged heart!

There is a plaque in the catacombs of St. Sebastian which commemorates the place where, in 1544, St. Philip Neri did, in fact, experience an enlargement of his heart. The saint we commemorate today is known for his ardent love of God and outstanding love of the faithful whom he served. The physical expansion of St. Philip Neri's heart is a visible manifestation of the spiritual growth that took place in his life.

We may not experience a physical enlargement of our hearts, as did St. Philip, but we can strive to achieve a spiritual growth which will enlarge our hearts' ability to love our neighbors. Perhaps the next time we have an opportunity to perform a small act of charity, we will allow the Lord to stretch our hearts to seek and find Him in our neighbors ever more diligently.

"The Blessed St. Philip Neri, at fourscore years of age, had such an inflammation of heart through divine love, that the heat making the ribs give way to it, greatly enlarged them, and broke the fourth and fifth, that the heart might receive air and be refreshed."
St. Francis de Sales

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