A Samurai Heart

A Samurai Heart

Today’s guest blogger, Joe McHugh, is a spiritual director, retreat leader, teacher, and writer based in the Twin Cities. He contributes regularly to the National Catholic Reporter. His book, Startled by God: Wisdom from Unexpected Places, will be published by Franciscan Media in September 2013. He can be contacted at jjmch1300@gmail.com.

I once read a story about an ancient Japanese Samurai warrior who saw his master killed in battle. The Samurai code of honor required that he avenge his master’s death and preserve his dignity by killing his master’s killer.

After many years, the warrior finally tracked him down, and, as he approached him, drew his sword, prepared to carry out the fatal revenge honor required. But before he could kill him, the man spit in the warrior’s face, and he instantly put his sword back in its scabbard, bowed deeply to the killer, and calmly walked away.

As it turns out, the warrior was enraged when the killer spit on him, and if he had killed him with that white-hot anger coursing through his veins, he would have been acting in anger rather than in honor. Since his motive was no longer pure, he had to walk away. If he hadn’t, he would have dishonored not only his master, but also himself in the process.

The samurai might possibly teach us something about the gospel notion of purity of heart. It was a recurrent theme in the spiritual writings of the desert monastics in the 3rd century, St. Benedict in the 6th, and the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard in the 19th. Kierkegaard saw purity of heart as willing one thing, and in that description we hear echoes of the gospel mandate to “strive first for the kingdom of God” (Mt 6:33). Mixed motives, it appears, have no place in the hearts of the followers of Jesus. That’s why we need the gifts of discernment and continual conversion.



Featured photo: Goodwyn/Photoxpress.com


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