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Starting Point

Hearts broken, filled with love


I once knew a rabbi whose name was Richard Landsberg. We co-officiated at many Jewish-Catholic weddings. When the time came for the groom to crush the delicate crystal glass, Rabbi Landsberg spoke to all present. He spoke beautifully of love. He stressed love’s presence in life as gift, a gift as precious and delicate as crystal, a gift to be received with gratitude and shared with joy. He spoke of the portion of wine that could fill such a glass, wine aged to a fine vintage, sipped slowly, wine that gives gladness of heart. He alluded to the fine quality of the crystal, refined through heat, shaped with artistry, the kind of crystal that is handed down from generation to generation.

As he spoke these words, people from different traditions of faith listened. I imagined that they were taking his words and listening to them with memories of their own loves, their own years of sharing it, love seasoned by and, perhaps, brought to a fine vintage with the joys and sorrows that life can bring.

He then told the bride and groom to cherish each other, for their hearts were gifts, too, and as delicate and as precious as crystal. He then wrapped the glass in a white napkin, and gave it to the groom who placed the small bundle on the floor and crushed it beneath his foot.

There was another man called rabbi who also spoke so well of the heart. And many listened to him deeply. He spoke of God in a way no one had ever heard before, a God who made his dwelling in the human heart, a God who not only fashioned the human heart but makes himself present through it. Yet something in us so feared him that we crushed him. We pierced and then shattered this man sent from God who was God.

At the end of each wedding, Rabbi Landsburg gave the couple the small bundle with the crushed crystal. “This,” he told them, “is now of use for only one thing. Know you will do this to each other, but unlike the glass, your heart is not crystal, which breaks only once. You will break each other’s heart but through the gift that is God’s love, you will only know to fill each other again with mercy. Know that and you will know many years of happiness. Keep this shattered crystal and remember.”

I remember his words with gratitude. We have no crystal. We only have heart.

In the liturgical year, we have a feast of the Sacred Heart, a heart broken by us and yet, oh happy fault, a heart that through being broken is remembered, shared, a gift given again and again.

Our hearts are not our own. They are a gift through which we know the sacredness of life and the presence of Jesus. The human heart is small, small enough to nestle in a napkin. Yet in it and through it lives the heart of the Lord. Keep this heart, love out of this heart, and remember it is a gift to be received with gratitude, shared with joy, refined through sacrifice.

Trappist Fr. James Stephen Behrens lives at Holy Spirit Monastery, Conyers, Ga. His e-mail address is james@trappist.net

National Catholic Reporter, November 9, 2001