The first Christians soon realized that if they were to persevere in the new life they were chosen to live, they had to love and love intensely. It was this element of love that made Christianity so different from any other religion.
Man is a being of emotion and to live only in Faith and Hope would be to live in a desert with light and air but no warmth. Man needs incentive and drive to propel him out of darkness into light, or, better still, to radiate light in the midst of darkness.
Life was difficult at best. Though Christianity gave them peace within, it created havoc around them. It made some men examine their consciences and showed them up for what they really were — false and tyrannical. It takes a great man to see himself and change, but the world was sometimes ruled by small men — men who rebelled at the sight of themselves. They struck out at these Christians with a fury that only hatred could produce.
These Christians had to keep themselves above every situation that tended to drag their souls down and make them want to retaliate at anger and hatred.
They had to nourish and maintain within themselves a never-ending source of love. They had to feed their souls with life-giving water.
Jesus had sent the Advocate to dwell in their souls, and they were determined that nothing would interfere with that union. Every moment of their lives had to be used to grow in the Image of Jesus.
Faith gave them a belief, and Hope a goal, but to keep both alive and active they needed to Love.
Faith settled the doubts in their intellects, and Hope calmed their emotions, but they needed Love to give them the endurance to persevere.
Faith told them what they believed, and Hope told them why, but it was Love that told them Whom they believed in.
Faith gave them something, and Hope gave them some place, but Love gave them Someone.
In the journey of life, Faith was the boat, Hope the anchor, and Love the rudder.
They had to maintain an ever growing Love for God and neighbor and they looked to Jesus to tell them how. One day Jesus told His Apostles, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We shall come and make Our home with him” (John 14:23).
The secret then was to keep His word and the Trinity would live in them. The Spirit made them sons of God at Baptism; an indelible seal was placed upon them — a seal never to be erased in time or eternity. Like the sons of men, they had to grow and mature in their new life and that life was fed by God Himself.
“And My Word is not my own,” Jesus said, “it is the Word of the One who sent Me” (John 14:24). Was the “Word” something they heard, or was it Someone they loved?
Somehow they knew that the words that passed through their minds and the emotions of their hearts were inseparable. They noticed when they read Scripture that the Sacred Writers often used the word “mind” and “heart” as if they were the same.
Jesus Himself told them that “it is from men’s hearts that evil intentions emerge. . . . Nothing that goes into a man from outside can make him unclean; it is the things that come out of a man that make him unclean. All evil things come from within and make a man unclean” (Mark 7:21, 15, 23).
One would eventually think that theft, murder, avarice, adultery, envy, and pride, originate in the mind that reasons, plans, and determines goals, but Jesus says it all comes from the heart.
When we speak of the heart, we think of love, and wherever there is love there is the possibility of hatred. It is what we love or hate that determines our course in life, and the degree in which we love or hate will determine our success or failure.
One day Jesus said to a paralytic, “Courage, my child, your sins are forgiven” (Matt. 9:2). The Scribes were incensed that Jesus forgave sins. Only God can forgive sins and their only thought was that Jesus was blaspheming. Scripture then gives us one of those instances where mind and heart are synonymous: “Knowing what was in their minds Jesus said, ‘Why do you have such wicked thoughts in your hearts?’ ” (Matt. 9:4).
Jesus knew what they were thinking, and yet He spoke of those invisible and inaudible words as coming from the heart.
“When anyone hears the word of the Kingdom without understanding, the Evil One comes and carries off what was sown in his heart” (Matt. 13:19).
Here again Jesus speaks of the heart as a receptacle of knowledge, and yet we all realize that it is the mind, operating through the brain, that retains knowledge, reasons, and accomplishes.
Many scientists declare that a human being is legally dead when his brain stops functioning, and others maintain he is dead when his heart stops. It is a problem that will be difficult to solve both in the physical and spiritual realm. In Scripture, however, Jesus joins the two together very often and seems to indicate that as the heart pumps blood to the brain to keep it functioning in the physical realm, the three faculties of the soul, operating through the mind, are also influenced.
The heart, the symbol of love and seat of the emotions, reaches out as a light shining in the world, indicating the power of our will and the direction we have chosen to take.
No matter how often we remember His Words, or how deeply we believe in them, if those Words do not affect our heart and move that heart to love and give all to Jesus, it is nothing. St. Paul realized this when he said to the Corinthians that if he had all knowledge, gave everything he possessed to the poor, gave his body to be burned, and had the faith that moved mountains, without love, it would be as nothing (1 Cor. 13:1-3).
Paul was not speaking of an emotional love — a love that was fanned into a raging blaze and then quickly turned into ashes. No, he was speaking of a deep love of the heart, an inner conviction, a total consecration, a drive that preferred death to denial.
The heart of the Christian was a heart of flesh, penetrated by the Spirit of the Lord. It was a heart ever aware of being a “home” in which the Spirit of the Lord reigned and loved.
The disciples going to Emmaus had this experience when Jesus began to walk beside them. After they recognized Him in the breaking of bread, they said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us as He talked to us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32).
Loving Jesus was a heart experience just as much as an intellectual acceptance of Him as Lord and Savior. This is what gave these converts life and joy. They became Lovers of God and faithful children, besides obedient subjects.
They loved Him and He loved them. They dwelt in Him as He dwelt in them through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus had assured them that “a good man draws what is good from the store of goodness in his heart. . . . For a man’s words flow out of what fills his heart” (Luke 6:45). They were to be vigilant and not permit anything to enter the door of their souls that would destroy or mar its beauty. “Watch yourselves,” He told them, “or your hearts will be coarsened with debauchery and drunkenness and the cares of life” (Luke 21:34).
Jesus puts the “cares of life” in the same category as debauchery and drunkenness. All three weaknesses occupy the mind and heart. The mind becomes possessed by them, the heart revels in them, and Jesus and the Kingdom are pushed aside as something not relevant for the moment.
The first Christians never forgot the statement Jesus made one day when He said, “Store up treasures for yourself in Heaven, where neither moth nor woodworms destroy them, and thieves cannot break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matt. 6:20-21).
It was of primary importance then, that they analyzed their priorities to be sure the one thing necessary — the Kingdom — was first and foremost. The first Christians’ goal was to pattern their lives after the life of Jesus. They were sons of God through grace, and they made sure that sin would not take that treasure away from them. However, their lives as Christians were more positive than negative. They not only safeguarded their treasure; they increased it every day by seizing every opportunity to grow into the likeness of Jesus. Their whole life was spent setting their hearts aright and changing those hearts to resemble Jesus.
“Shoulder My yoke, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt. 11:29-30). The Father had given each of them the yoke of obeying the Commandments, and especially the new one — to love their neighbor as He loved them. Jesus took that yoke upon Himself when He became man, and He bore it by being meek and humble of heart.
The first Christians were to learn how to preserve their hearts’ treasure by doing as Jesus did always and everywhere. The realization of the existence of Heaven detached them from the world. The words of Jesus gave them something to hang on to when the going was difficult, but they needed a heart united to the very heart of God to persevere in maintaining and increasing their treasure in Heaven.
The Heart of Jesus gave the souls of these Christians peace and rest. The Apostles often related to them how, when Jesus appeared to them after the Resurrection, He said, “Peace be with you! Why are you so agitated, and why are these doubts rising in your hearts?” (Luke 24:39).
Like the Apostles before them, the first Christians had to fight doubt and fear many times, but they would unite their hearts to His. They would love as He loved and have the same goal and determination as He.
He came as Light, and they would be the radiation of that Light. He showed mankind the Father’s Love, and they would be an example of that Love. He was detached and never lost sight of His Father, and they would be detached and never lose sight of Him. As Jesus manifested the Father, they would manifest Jesus.
Jesus said He only did what He saw the Father do. The first Christians strove with all their power to do as Jesus did. “The proof,” Paul told them, “that you are sons is that God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts — the Spirit that cries, ‘Abba, Father’ ” (Gal. 4:6).
They were to be patient and persevere in being like Jesus. They were to be, “happy, always happy in the Lord, full of peace, guarding their hearts and thoughts in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:4, 7). Their hearts were to belong to Jesus; He was their first love; He was the center of their day, their life, their work, their goal. He was truly the heart of their hearts, and they safeguarded this treasure with determination and zeal.
They kept His words in their minds and His Love in their hearts, and together they changed their lives, “so that Christ might live in their hearts through faith, and then, planted in love and built in love, they would begin to understand the Infinite Love of God, as He gave them His very Spirit to dwell in their hearts” (Eph. 3:16-20).
Their lives were living witnesses of the love of Jesus. St. Paul told them, “You are a letter from Christ, drawn up by us and written, not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living Christ; not on stone tablets, but on the tablets of your living hearts” (2 Cor. 3:3).
Editor’s note: This article is from a chapter in Mother Angelica on Prayer and Living for the Kingdom, which is available from Sophia Institute Press.