“There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man, and only God can fill it.” –Blaise Pascal
As I sat down on a Saturday morning to write, I was inspired by a quote that I have heard and used often about a God-shaped hole in our hearts.
The idea of a God-shaped hole in our hearts has been an inspiration to many Christians over the years. The quote is attributed to 17th Century philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal from his Pensees, (thoughts) a defense of the Christian religion.
In an effort to quote him correctly, I did what most writers would do and googled the quote, only to find that Pascal never said it! That’s right, one of my favorite Pascal quotes and he never said it. He did, however, say something similar;
“What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself” (148/428).
Beautiful quote, right? But, somehow it got shortened, modified and changed into its current iteration.
This isn’t the first time I’ve run into quotes that are incorrectly attributed. For example one of my favorite St. Francis quotes;
“Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.”
Nope, he never said this! The closest he ever came to saying this was this quote from his rule of 1221, Chapter XII;
“No brother should preach contrary to the form and regulations of the holy Church nor unless he has been permitted by his minister … All the Friars … should preach by their deeds.”
And, speaking of St. Francis, who doesn’t love the Prayer of St. Francis; “Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace.” He didn’t write that either!
It actually is traced back to an anonymous French author in 1912 in a Catholic magazine called “The Little Bell.” (La Clochette) Throughout the 20th century, the prayer was distributed in Italy, the United States and elsewhere. Sebastian Temple wrote a hymn version, and over time is has been attributed to St. Francis. Not so.
One of my heroes, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, is often cited as the author of the beautiful composition, Do it Anyway. The truth is the original was written by Dr. Kent Keith in the late 1960’s when he was a seminarian. It is called, The Paradoxical Commandments. The version that hung from the wall of the Home for Children in Calcutta was partially rewritten in a more spiritual way, but can’t be attributed to Mother Teresa.
I’ve seen G.K. Chesterton attributed to Oprah Winfrey, C.S. Lewis to George Carlin, Jesus attributed to Buddha, and so on. Social Media is inundated with misattributed quotations.
I am not pointing these things out to burst your spiritual bubble. Even though I must admit that as I researched these quotations and their origins, I got a bit uncomfortable myself.
But then, I asked myself this question; do these spiritual quotes speak to my heart? Do they bring me closer to our Lord? To they help me along my journey of faith? And, have they helped others that I have shared these quotes with?
The answer is YES THEY HAVE! And, I am sure they will continue to inspire me and others along the way. I’ll continue to use them. I’ll just be more careful with my attributions. And, I’m still determined to write a reflection on the God-shaped hole in our hearts.
I’ll just begin my story with this quote from St. Augustine;
“You have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.” –St. Augustine
Oh yes, I’ve checked it out. Augustine did say this in his famous confessions. (Lib 1,1-2,2.5,5: CSEL 33, 1-5)
Now, all I have to do is write it!
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