22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Well did Isaiah the Prophet hit the nail on the head when he wrote about cups and jugs and kettles and beds: “This people honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me.” Jesus uses this text when asked why His disciples did not adhere to the traditions of the elders as followed by the Pharisees and scribes. Obviously, Jesus is deeply offended by those who would obey the law and the traditions not to please Him but to be seen and admired by a world that seeks self-glorification which, in essence, obliterates every otherwise worthy endeavor or attitude. Love for God is not found in laws and statutes, in rituals and outward displays of adherence to the mandates of tradition; love for God is found in a pure and selfless heart that seeks only the good as manifested by compassion, integrity, truth and peace-filled justice. To grow more like God we must put aside the trappings of this world, reflect the goodness of God and focus our gaze on the Person of Christ who does not desire sacrifice or oblation, or the fundamentals of tradition, but rather, a heart contrite and pure, loving and true.
There are countless words given to what it means to love God with a pure and selfless love, to love and live as the popular quote from the secular Little Prince written by the French aristocrat and aviator Antoine de Sainte Exupery, gently proclaims: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the human eye.” In the Book of Samuel, we hear God say of one of Jesse’s sons featured to be the successor to Saul: “Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature because I have refused him: for the Lord sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” We look at the outside because that is all we can see, but as the first Book of Kings reminds us: “You alone O God, know our hearts.”
When Jesus taught the Sermon on the Mount, he began with the Beatitudes where it seems that He turned all contemporary attitudes of His time upside down and that is true of this age as well. What could appear more contradictory than statements such as these: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs; blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth; blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied; blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” These statements are a far cry from following traditions that have no heart.
How providential that THE man of civil rights, Martin Luther King Jr. so eloquently proclaimed all those many years later: “A man should be judged by the content of his character and not by the color of his skin.” Would that we could internalize this truth today and follow his advice! It would spare the life of many a human person so that he/she might live to love all the more!
I have always loved the writings of Bishop Fulton J. Sheen and I share one of his reflections with you now because it gives me insight into what a heart should hold and why it is of such significance to the God who created it. He writes: “Look at your heart! It tells the story of why you were made. It is not perfect like a Valentine Heart that is perfect and regular in contour; it is slightly irregular in shape as if a small piece of it were missing out of its side. That missing part may very well symbolize a piece that a spear tore out of the Universal Heart of Humanity on the Cross but it probably symbolized something more. I think the real meaning is that when God made your human heart, He found it so good and so lovable that He kept a small sample of it in heaven. He sent the rest of it into this world of time, where it would each day learn the lesson that it can never be really happy, that it can never be really wholly in love, that it can never be really whole-hearted until it rests with the Risen Christ in an Eternal Easter. In order to be really peaceful, in order to be really whole-hearted, you must go back again to God to recover the piece He has been keeping for you from all eternity!” This may seem somewhat sentimental or fictional; well, if that is how you choose to view these words I suppose it does have an element of fantasy but it also expresses a great deal more than fantasy’s allure. Saint Augustine writes: “Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.” So, whether it is Augustine or Sheen, King or de Sainte Exupery, Samuel or Isaiah, be assured that the only thing that matters is to know where your treasure is, for that is where your heart resides.
Sr. Anne Daniel Young OP