Friday, March 23, 2007

Friday in the 4th Week of Lent
Heart Condition

Readings: Wisdom 2:1a, 12-22; Psalm 34:17-18, 19-20, 21 and 23; John 7:1-2, 10, 25-30

There’s an obvious contrast between two sets of characters in our readings today: the virtuous person and Jesus on the one hand, and the godless and those out to kill Jesus on the other. The virtuous one is being opposed and persecuted, even to the point of death. The godless are the ones doing the opposing and the persecuting and the plotting to murder. The reason for all this is quite obvious. The virtuous is persecuted for no reason other than that his/her way of life is a rebuke to the godless. And on the surface, it is the godless who have the upper hand. They are the ones in an apparent position of strength. They have the capacity to inflict suffering. The virtuous can only submit and suffer and succumb.

But the contrast runs deeper than appearances might suggest. If the virtuous lives differently, it is because s/he listens to a different voice and responds to a different hand guiding the course of world events. And more than any virtue of his/her own, it is this connection with a deeper reality that gives the virtuous the strength to persevere, to remain steadfast, even in the face of death. As Jesus says, there is one who sent me and I really come from him. In contrast, something prevents the godless from having access to this hidden reality. As we heard in the first reading, they do not know the hidden things of God, they have no hope that holiness will be rewarded… They cling stubbornly to their convictions, even to the point of murder, because they operate only on the level of appearances.

But, if there is a fundamental difference between the virtuous and the godless, it is to be found in the state of their hearts. For various reasons, the hearts of the godless have been hardened such that they are unable to see the hand and hear the voice of God, especially in the life-style of the virtuous. Their consciousness is filled with resentment. And their malice makes them blind. In contrast, the virtuous operates from a position of weakness and of total dependence on the God who, as the psalm tells us, is close to the broken-hearted and who saves those whose spirit is crushed.

This contrast between the virtuous and the godless is not just to be found in the scriptures. We find it in the world around us as well. But, perhaps more importantly, we find it in ourselves. There is something of the virtuous as well as the godless person within each of us. There are areas of our hearts that are soft and pliable and responsive to God. Often, these are also areas that are vulnerable to suffering. And although there is in suffering the danger of becoming hardened, our readings offer consolation. Many are the trials of the just but from them all the Lord will rescue you. Then there are also areas that, for whatever reason, remain hard and resistant and blind to the overtures of a loving God. To these areas, our readings offer a challenge and the encouragement to change. The way back lies in honestly acknowledging our affliction and in patiently and gently struggling with it before God. In this way, we may be led to experience the fear beneath the anger, the softness beneath the hardness, the brokenness and weakness beneath the appearance of wholeness and strength. Above all we may be led to experience the compassionate presence of the God who delights in replacing hearts of stone with hearts of flesh.

What is the state of your heart today?

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