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Giving Our Hearts Away

Rev. Paul V. Redmond
Professor Emeritus
Mount St. Mary's University

(01-01-09) Occasion: A "breakfast talk" given by Father Paul to rising graduates majoring in English and Philosophy on April 29, 2007

When I was one-and-twenty
I heard a wise man say,
"Give crowns and pounds and guineas
But not your heart away;
Give pearls away and rubies
But keep your fancy free."
But I was one-and-twenty,
No use to talk to me.

When I was one-and-twenty
I heard him say again,
"The heart out of the bosom
Was never given in vain;
'Tis paid with sighs a plenty
And sold for endless rue."
And I am two-and-twenty,
And oh, 'tis true, 'tis true.

I find the words of our friendly poet, A. E. Housman, an accurate starting point for our meditation, "Giving our Hearts Away". At two-and-twenty I found myself agreeing with this Romantic pessimist. One has to learn the hard way at times. But soon after, when I was three-and-twenty- almost three score years ago-I began to disagree deeply with Housman's cheerless outlook. In different ways that I would begin to discover-I found that the only way for me to live was for me "to give my heart away." In continuing to do so, despite the pain at times, I remain solidly an optimist.

About this time in my early life I went through a period of prayerful discernment-a period when I began to listen more keenly to what I wanted to do with my life. Little by little I entered into what would become a life-long struggle to accept the Father's love for me through Jesus in the Holy Spirit and to fill out what that means. For me it means that I give my heart to him and to others. Despite my missteps and set backs, I found myself always wanting to continue to grow, to move beyond myself to whatever is beautiful, true, and good. I wanted to share with others those insights which had become part of me. I had discovered a new way of giving my heart away.

. During my seminary days at the Theological College of Catholic University Fulton J. Sheen, television evangelist, served as my mentor. He helped me grow in my admiration of Gilbert Keith Chesterton. Charles Hart quickened my philosophical spirit. His graduate class in metaphysics sharpened my desire for beauty, truth, and the good. Perhaps one day I could make these insights my own, probe them more keenly, develop them more fully, and share them with others. The tools of analysis and criticism became trustworthy companions in my growth. Perhaps, someday I would teach. I simply wanted to grow more deeply in the intellectual and spiritual life and share that life with others. .

Upon ordination I was assigned to a poor parish in Rensselaer, New York, where as a newly-minted priest, I learned what it meant to work in raw service and rough situations. I loved it. One year later, when I had barely got my feet wet, I was startled by a request that challenged me and changed my life. Sight-unseen, I was invited to join the faculty at Mount Saint Mary's College. The President of the College was a priest from my home diocese. My bishop approved. The telegram from the President read: "Bring your car and your philosophy books." I came, saw, and was conquered.

In my first few years of teaching philosophy I was able to have my students move beyond secondary source material. . .what authors said about what the philosophers said. I wanted them to begin to gain confidence in reading primary source material---works written by the philosophers themselves. In a friendly, and sometimes nagging fashion I encouraged a few of my fellow teachers to do the same.

Perhaps my students too would learn as I did, that in reading Plato and other philosophers they would come to admit their ignorance and become uncomfortable enough with this felt lack of knowledge to seek the truth of things. Maybe this would become their life-long habit Perhaps too in reading these philosophers they would begin to admit to themselves their own prejudices and hopefully move beyond them. Maybe this too would become their life-long habit.

Early in my life, I had developed a love of reading.. . . a trait that I picked up from my parents. I've always had a passionate desire for reading and wanted to communicate to my students -and eventually, to any one who would listen, my own excitement. My hope was that they too would begin to be singed, if not burnt, by a similar desire. Many times students and I would meet in my quarters in the dorm to discuss life in general or at the Mount-and to give our reactions to different books that spoke to us-- books other than those assigned in classes in philosophy or English. Sometimes, we spent long night hours discussing Graham Greene or Evelyn Waugh, Shakespeare, or Dostoevsky. Sometimes, we would wander into discussions on the relevance of faith to our lives.

The teachers of philosophy and literature whom you have experienced at the Mount have shared with you their desire to strive for what is real, beautiful, true, and good and to see, not with their eyes, but with your eyes things as they really are. In doing so, they have given their hearts away to you. From time to time may you burnish your grateful memories to let them know in an occasional note that you too have caught a similar desire to give your hearts away.

In such giving of my heart I find that I need to pause, to reflect that I am trying to move beyond the self I think I am - beyond the faade that I present to my fellow teachers and students, to the self that I really am. Philosophy has remained essential to my growth. It continues to help me to move beyond uncomfortable ignorance and any new unexamined prejudices to a more intense desire for beauty, truth, and goodness.

After I retired from teaching fifteen years ago I went back to the classroom at the Mount. I have always enjoyed the elfin magic of words-in English or other languages. So, I took all the German and Spanish courses -as well as a delightful, superb Shakespeare course. I continued to feel a need to grow. I wanted somehow to excite a similar desire in others.

Of late, I am refreshing myself in these languages---and even returning to a study of elementary Russian which I enjoyed at Berlitz many years ago. For the past five years I have been a student of opera. I'm fascinated by the ways in which music conveys meaning. In the past year I discovered another way to give my heart away. Students and teacher-friends have come to my house on Friday evenings to listen to DVD presentations of Carmen, Madam Butterfly, Don Giovanni, and The Magic Flute. The list goes on. It is so easy to be seduced and drawn into their quicksand beauty. Although it is not Opera 101, I do give "handout notes" on the main ideas in their presentation. . . ideas which we review over our pizza or discuss at intermission time while we munch our Klondikes. Again-a simple way of giving our hearts away.

Deep friendships formed at the Mount with students and teachers regularly quickened and developed my ability to study and to teach. A few intimate friends continue to help me to grow into my true self - the genuine self. . . . the self as loved by the Father, through Jesus, in the Spirit. May you have a few intimate friends in your life -in the words of Polonius to his son, Laertes in Hamlet: "Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried, grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel. . . . this above all, to thy own self be true, And it must follow as the night the day Thou canst not then be false to any man."

In my wanting to deepen my love for learning and sharing still more I recently began a program of re-reading; reading again those giants of yesteryear. The Nobel Prize winner Sigrid Undset with her majestic tale of sin and redemption, Kristin Lavransdatter, Dostoevsky with his searing insights in The Brothers Karamazov. Dante and Shakespeare-Austen and Pushkin - Plato, Augustine, and Nietzsche --the list goes on. I only hope that I can continue to share my insights with others -- be they intimate friends on and off the campus or new acquaintances whom I meet in parish service. I need them to continue to share their insights with me. And may students who are always welcome at my home wander in - not to say "Goodbye, Mr. Chips", (to borrow the title of the novel by James Hilton). Rather, may they say: "Hello, Paul, is the pizza ready? What are you reading now?"

I pray: May you always have a healthy sense of doubt and not be afraid to question yourself, anyone and any institution-religious, educational, or civil. May you seek whatever is beautiful, true, and good. and remain ever hopeful as you give your hearts away. May a few intimate friends assist you as you grow deeply into your true unique self as the "beloved of God."

As for myself the optimistic words of the poet Longfellow resonate in me:

Something remains for me to do or dare
Even the oldest tree some fruit may bear
For age is opportunity no less than youth itself, but in another dress.
And as the evening twilight fades away
The sky is filled with stars invisible by day

Paul V. Redmond, an eighty year old priest of the Diocese of Albany, has been stationed at Mount Saint Mary's University for 52 years. Although Paul retired from teaching Philosophy he continues to grow with students and faculty in their mutual search for the beautiful in giving their hearts away.

Read other homilies by Father Paul