Soliloquies from a Secular Heretic
Warm-heartedness embraces a multitude of virtues. It includes sympathy, kindness, congeniality, gentleness and care. It is a virtue for those who are seasoned in virtue. According to J. P. Marquand, “There is a certain phase in the life of the aged when the warmth of the heart seems to increase in direct proportion with years.” Warm-heartedness is the soft glow of love, winning over people’s trust and rendering them comfortable in an intimate, often domestic, environment. It is virtue that is perfectly suited for the Christmas season.
On the other hand, we know only too well how age can harden people, turning them into cranky, crusty, crotchety, cantankerous, grumpy old men and women. Life is a drama, ambiguous and uncertain. If we are fortunate and live long enough to enter our “Golden Years,” we have no assurance whatsoever that we will arrive at that noble estate without being cursed by cold-heartedness. The entire thrust of Charles Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol, is to warm up the frosty heart of Ebenezer Scrooge.
Early in the story, Dickens describes his character as follows: “The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shriveled his cheek, stiffened his gait, made his eyes red, his thin lips blue, and spoke shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always with him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas.”
Dante’s Ninth Circle of Hell is an icy lake. Scrooge was headed in that direction until his heart started to heat up. And when it did, it burst into a paroxysm of love and generosity. If warm-heartedness is the channel, love is its furnace. Philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand speaks of “the peculiar quality of expansive warm-heartedness which belongs to pure love.” He also points out how easy it is for lust and any of the other Deadly Sins to cause the heart to atrophy and lose its warmth. A heart of vice is a heart of ice.
The warm heart has the capacity to warm others, just as a source of heat warms its immediate surroundings. A warm heart can touch other hearts and ignite them in the process. The Heart of Jesus not only warms, but burns. After talking with Jesus on the road to Emmaus, the two companions say to each other: “Did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us?” (Lk 24, 32)
One of the endearing features of the warmhearted person is that he or she manifests virtue even prior to its enactment. The virtue of warm-heartedness, like modesty, is recognized apart from its being expressed in action. Its “temperature” alone is sufficient to make its presence felt. This is the case with any personal feature that has warmth, whether the warmth is in the heart, the eyes, the words, the smile or the laughter.
Just as, according to the old saying, “Who splits wood warms twice,” the warmhearted person engenders warm-heartedness in others. Marriage is a relationship that demands that the spouses warm each other’s hearts.
When we warm up people’s drinks, we can be taking an important step in warming their hearts. We have house-warmings in the hope that these dwelling places will warm the hearts of all of its future inhabitants and guests. The physical is closely attuned to the spiritual. This is “global warming” in the best sense of the expression. “Shall not my heart’s warmth not nurse thee into strength?” asks the poet Browning.
Let us all grow warmer with age and may the warmth of Christmas warm all our hearts.
Donald DeMarco, Ph.D., is a Senior Fellow of HLI America, an Initiative of Human Life International. He is Professor Emeritus at St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo, Ontario, and an adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell. Some of his recent writings may be found at HLI America’s Truth and Charity Forum, where this column first appeared.