By Francis Patrick Donnelly
THE DETACHED HEART
The devil now put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot to betray Him.
THE Irish orator, Curran, was very fond of trees. Near his house there was a very fine one, whose growth he watched with care, whose beauty he learned to love. As years went on, the tree grew and spread and finally encroached upon the house, blocking the light and
pushing here and there against the walls and roof with its branches, seeking a chance to expand. "You will have to cut down that tree," said a friend to Curran. "I was thinking of taking down the house," replied the orator.
The human heart has its growths, which it loves and watches and makes sacrifices to, and to meet that tendency we have the virtue of detachment. Detachment plants in the proper place, keeps rank growth well pruned, and if need be, lays the axe to the root rather than lose a greater good. It saves the house rather than the tree. For Curran the tree may have been more valuable, but for detachment the soul is more than its attachments. Detachment is at the head of the bureau for the conservation of spiritual resources. It does not permit the energies of the soul to be wasted or monopolized by passion to the exclusion of the soul's supreme interest, God Himself. Detachment, then, uproots or controls all attachments except one, attachment to God.
The Gospel gives the complete history of a disastrous attachment which grew, which overshadowed the soul, and which finally, destroyed the soul. St. John tells us the last stage: "The devil now put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot to betray Him." "You will have to give up that attachment for the purse," said detachment. "I will give up Christ," replied Judas. It was a question of the axe or the rope, and rather than lay the axe to the root, attachment chose the rope. The devil had easy access into that attached heart.
The attachment of Judas did not grow in a day. To leave all and follow Christ shows no roots of avarice in the heart, but at least the seeds of the highest holiness. Judas left all, yet, with the weak inconsistency of human nature, he let the strings of a purse wind about his heart, as Peter, with like weakness and inconsistency, was willing to face, and no doubt would have faced, a thousand sword-blades, but did not face the tongue of one maid.
Judas alone could tell us how attraction changed to inclination, how inclination blossomed to evil desire, and how evil desire branched out into the full growth of attachment. Then came the blocking out of the light, the overshadowing of dark principles, the unchecked wild struggle for mastery. This was the stage of deceit when attachment decked itself out as a virtue. "Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pieces of silver and given to the poor?" asked Judas, and from the Gospel it is clear that he whispered this hypocrisy to the other Apostles. They were deceived, and in good but mistaken faith took up the complaint. There you have a picture of the essential meanness of attachment. It would not be too much to believe that Judas kept in the background, while his poisoned dupes fought his battles for him. Cowardice, meanness, hypocrisy, poisoning of souls, such are the deadly fruits of attachment.
The final stage came when attachment was full grown. It staggers us to think that a man would sell another man, though the other was a worthless one, for thirty pieces of silver, for nineteen dollars and a half. That was the price to be paid for a murdered slave. Judas accepted the pittance with its insulting memories and agreed to betray Jesus. It was money or Christ, and attachment, with its blinding, grappling hold upon the soul, had its way, and Christ was crucified.
No doubt other motives helped avarice at the end, but a full-grown attachment so exaggerates the object of its selfishness as to debase and pervert every other noble instinct of the soul. The shock of the completed crime alone opens the eyes again, and then God's infinite mercy must be grasped and held to or the heinous foulness of the attachment's cancerous growth will excite the loathing of despair.
The successive stages of attachment are: love of earthly good for God and with God, love of earthly good and God, love of earthly good without God, love of earthly good against God. The Heart of Christ, which belonged to God, the Second Person, could never pass out of the first stage. It was and ever will be for God and with God. It does, however, give us a picture of perfect detachment, meeting and counteracting the various stages of attachment: the planting, the overshadowing, the final struggle.
When Christ, our Lord, looked into the world to choose a mother and a place of birth and a manner of life, all the attractions of earth lay before Him: wealth, honor, intellect, power, comfort, pleasure. He passed them all by and chose Mary, Bethlehem and Calvary; purity, poverty and pain. So the seed of every human attachment was banished at once from the Heart of Christ and therein was planted the love of virtue and holiness and of suffering. When Christ picked out a Heart for Himself, He took one that was wounded and girt with thorns. Attachment loves the velvet touch of pleasure and the crown of gold, and the noxious plant cannot grow beneath the painful points of the thorns and spear.
Christ also manifested to us His detachment in opposing the second stage of attachment, where vice masquerades as a virtue, when selfishness is substituted in the soul for God. It was in the desert that Christ allowed Satan to tempt Him and thus reveal to us His Heart, turning to naught the vain deceits of the evil one. It was not to open sensuality that Christ was tempted. Though the temptation was opportunely timed, coming after the long fast, yet it was subtly cloaked under the exercise of power. It offered a chance for self to indulge in deception, to seek the gratification of the flesh under the guise of doing good. Christ unmasked the tempter. No attachment to bread alone will give the soul life. Again, it was not to open pride of life that Christ was tempted in the second instance. The pride was deceitfully allied with the Temple, God's angels and God's Providence, circumstances that seemed to justify in self an exhibition of power. But it was not so that Christ was to assert His power in the Temple, nor was God so to be tempted. Then, finally, the evil one promised to crown self king of the world. Attachment enthrones the same king, and attachment uses the same means that the tempter used for Christ. Imaginary pleasures, imaginary power and glory, are spread before the bewitched eyes of the mind. Dreams of new worlds of delight, brittle and brilliant, are the deceitful creations of attachment. Christ bursts the bubble. Not self, but the Lord God alone is to be adored and served.
Christ is, too, our example and our stay in the final struggle against attachment in the death-grapple of soul and selfishness. In the hour of His agony in the Garden there were many sorrows that came to lay their burden upon the stricken Saviour, but of the presence of one heavy sorrow we may be sure. If ever the axe was laid to the root of attachment, it was in that hour. All the attachments of man come from and go back to one great attachment, the love of self. Self will let the soul be lost rather than lose its own gratification. What, then, will self feel when not one or other pleasure is threatened but its own existence is in doubt? The love of life is more than than the love of pleasure or power. In His agony Christ struggled with the attachment of all attachments, with the love of life. He saw, He felt His enemies, not simply severing one desire from His Heart, but laying the axe of torture and death to the very juncture of heart and life. "Not My will, but Thine be done!" The detached Heart of Christ makes the supreme sacrifice. It slays self, immolates attachment to life, and offers the holocaust to God. God is never overshadowed or crowded out in the detached heart, and Christ had the most detached of all hearts beating in His breast.