Spirituality for Today – Spring 2017 – Volume 21, Issue 4

What of the Broken Heart?

Rev. Raymond K. Petrucci

In 1966, Motown's Jimmy Ruffin sang the beautiful and soulful song, What Becomes of the Broken Hearted? No one conjectures anything positive about having a broken heart, but there are potentialities inherent in being in such a state.

Ah! happy they whose hearts can break
And peace of pardon win!
How else may man make straight his plan
And cleanse his soul from Sin?
How else but through a broken heart
May Lord Christ enter in?

Oscar Wilde
The Ballad of Reading Gaol

The nineteenth century Irish author, wit, and bon vivant, Oscar Wilde was brought up in a dysfunctional home by Protestant parents who taught their young son a disdain for the Catholic Church. Yet, Wilde had alive within him a growing attraction to Catholicism that almost came to fruition during his college years at Oxford, but did not fully blossom until near his death. The quotation above illustrates his coming awareness of how Christ could make whole a broken heart and a broken life. His message is appropriate for any believer who is entering into the Lent-to-Easter pilgrimage.

What is it about a broken heart that positions one for the gifts of healing and redemption? One easily can imagine how a broken heart tears a person apart, creating a bitterness of thought, and a feeling of self-pity and despair that overcomes one's total being. There, however, is another possibility present to one in that state. The sadness of a broken heart can lead to a humbleness and openness ready for the touch of a healing and loving God. Scripture tells us that God is close to the brokenhearted. As a matter of fact, the Gospel narratives are replete with stories of the brokenhearted. Consider all of the holy men and women in the Bible who endured so much rejection, suffering, blind hatred, and often death for their witness to God's word. From out of their dejection and distress, the voice of the Savior sounds in their ears. Jesus Christ, who knows firsthand the world of the brokenhearted, can speak to them not merely with empathy, but with redemption. Nothing can break a heart more thoroughly than the recognition of one's sins. The realization of the misuse of one's life evokes feelings of a wasted existence and of having been cast into the depths of hopelessness. It is then that one reaches the crossroads; it is at that point that either an eternal deafness or the hearing of an invitation to salvation occurs.

Throughout the ages, man has employed the symbol of a broken heart to express to feeling resulting from an event such as the loss of a loved one. Those who have endured a broken heart might affirm that their sensibility to feelings of love, indeed, to feelings of living are to a greater degree anesthetized. I am of the opinion that the heart of all true believers and, thus, all true lovers has known that feeling. During this time, the dynamic love embodied in the Great Commandment is most in want. The love of God for us is the medicine prescribed for that particular heartache and, assured and comforted by it, that love fashions a new determination not to allow sin to submerge our hearts into bitterness, but to embolden our opposition to it by a resolve to love as best we can and to let God do the rest.

The answer to the musical question, "What becomes of the brokenhearted?" depends on the depth of wisdom and the strength of faith within the afflicted person. Our worth as a person and the value of life itself is rooted in the mutual expression of God's love for us and our love for God. When that reality is powerfully present, we are capable of loving others no matter the circumstances that we are experiencing. Then, we can "run the good race" for God and feel completely alive. Saint Jerome said, "Plato located the soul of man in the head; Christ located it in the heart." We, therefore, can live and love from the depths of our soul because we can rise from a heart that is broken to a heart that perseveres in love. Regardless of the darkness of the world, we can give our light knowing that the love we possess is eternal.