|Andrey Mironov, 'Parable of the Two Sons' (https://creativecommons.org)|
Righteousness flowers when the heart is in the right place
These days, we have been reading from the book of Ecclesiastes. There is a very powerful line which should attract our attention straight away: "Follow the ways of your heart, the vision of your eyes" (Ecclesiastes 11:9). These words are ringing very true to us as we hear the readings of this Sunday. All the three writers, Prophet Ezekiel, St Paul and St Matthew bring home the above message very clear. All that matters in this world is to walk in the path of righteousness that God has set before us. In order to do that God has written the laws in our hearts says the Prophet. "And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh" (Ez 11:19). Further the prophet repeats again, "I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh" (Ezekiel 36:26). Another prophet Jeremiah utters these words again to his people, "for this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people" (Jeremiah 31:33 & Hebrews 8:10). And St Paul puts it beautifully once again in his letter to the Romans, "so they show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts either accusing or defending them" (Romans 2:15). Perhaps only through this Christ would be successful in His mission and would deliver the humanity from the slavery of sin and satan.
Following the heart means listening to God
There are a number of references to the concept of heart in our scriptures. So too our patristic fathers and mothers speak about the heart. Our whole christian spirituality is centred around the concept of heart. Just like the Mother of Our God who "treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart" (Luke 2:19) we too keep in our hearts everything - good and bad, evil and heavenly. Heart is also a place where we make things happen either for the good or bad reasons. The Word of God admonishes us, “if today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts” (Hebrews 3:15 & Psalm 95:8). In other words, we are supposed to allow our hearts to be more open, generous, sincere and responsive to whatever the Lord has to tell us and the world of today. Turning our hearts to God means to changing our focus from ourselves, from the things of the world to others, i.e., to God's invitation. St Ignatius of Loyola in his Spiritual Exercises affirms that God speaks to us through the desires of our hearts. When we become aware of God and God's self more and more then we would be certainly know what God wants. All the more we feel intensely deep within us what we really desire are the same. That means we need to get in touch with the deeper desires of the heart.
Self-emptying is a process of welcoming God in our hearts
If Prophet Ezekiel mentions about the righteousness of the person before the Creator and others, St Paul speaks so boldly how Jesus emptied himself completely through that beautiful hymn of kenosis, the self-emptying of our Lord (Philippians 2:1–11). Our righteousness, solidarity with our Lord is not for ourselves, or for our self glory or for self-satisfaction but given in return to God through our complete self-emptying. And the model here is Jesus Christ himself. In Jesus the whole scripture is fulfilled because of his self-emptying act which works out so fully and completely and there is nothing that leaves any space for suspicion and doubt.
Metanoia is to get reoriented and refocused on God
In that parable of the Father and His Two Sons in the Vineyard, (Matthew 21:28–32) Jesus speaks about is a reminder that each one of us to follow that heart which leads to God. The first son in the parable listened to his heart in spite of his smallness in saying "I will not" at the beginning. There is no room for insincerity, dishonesty, unfaithfulness in the Kingdom of God like the second son. All are invited to participate in God's glory including sinners and people with bad reputation provided they are ready for the metanoia, that is get reoriented and refocused who are ready to enter into the cave of their heart thus listen to the voice of God. Thus their eyes are able to see freshly and not dimly, clearly and not blurry, heavenly and not earthly.
Closing one's heart to the grater reality in our life that is God is not only sinful but also disastrous. "Hardening our hearts" is a great temptation which often derail our path to God and encounter with God. Pain and sufferings are part of our lives and in the words of Ecclesiastes "there is a time to be born and a time to die; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to tear down, and a time to build; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to be silent, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace" (Ecc 3:1-5). This is the human fragility in which we live. In fact, we are not control of the situations, moreover, not control of ourselves. Only God is the one who controls us, who softens our hearts so that they move toward him. To be human means to experience pain and suffering, joy and peace, yet we have to make that particular but personal decision of how to respond to it. Human tendency is to toughen our heats still further and try to protect it when things come on our way which are not pleasant and comforting. In order to follow the kingdom of God we have to follow the way of Jesus and his life style. Only then our hearts will be softened, thus our hearts are better able to love one another and accommodate others.
How shall we move forward?
Everything begins with small steps. We have to develop or cultivate that capacity to hold tenderly our pain and suffering, anger and frustration. There is no point in passing on that pain and suffering on others. I should begin to look at my past experiences of sufferings? Do I see them as a failure or challenge or opportunity to love and move forward? How do I look at my sinful ways, the way I deal with those things which do not please my God? Do my experiences of my limitations, shortcomings, failures, frustrations allow me to be more compassionate and forgiving towards others? What is my take on refusals to God's compassionate love that I experience from so many people?
We might be able to continue to love with our heart and see with clear eyes provided we allow the God come into our lives and makes His home in us. Our hearts open up completely and wholly only when we allow ourselves to listen to the voice of God, respond to it resolutely and firmly and when we are compassionate towards ourselves.
- Olvin Veigas, SJ
26th September 2020