23 March 2006: Thursday of the 3rd Week of Lent
Jeremiah 7, 23-28; Psalm 95, Luke 11, 14-23: The Hardening of the Heart
The readings today especially the responsorial psalm talks about the hardening of one’s heart. In today’s reading, Jeremiah decries the persistent hardness of his people’s heart, the stiffness of their necks. Both expressions point beyond the symptoms of sin to its source in the very core of one’s self. As Jesus casts out demons in the Gospel, he encounters the stubbornness of some of his people. Some accuse him of being Satan’s agent; others test him by asking for a sign. And Jesus offers a parable. That the finger of God strips Satan who is fully armed of his power and sets free those in his possession.
The hardening or the freezing of our hearts is indeed experienced like one behind bars, being imprisoned and determined by it. The hardening of our hearts can be a result of many traumatic experiences: of being greatly hurt by someone whom we have loved, of being rejected or neglected in the cases of friends and family members, of relationships not well maintained or not given enough nourishment that it has turned cold, or in the cases of those whose security is in the thought that they are intelligent, their hearts have remained underdeveloped (we have people whom we call intellectual giants, but emotional dwarves). All those whose hearts are hardened and cold usually are unaware that their heart has imprisoned them and prevented them to love, and be warm persons. These people have the tendency of narrow-minded, selfishly exclusive, rigid and unloving.
The parable thus provides hope for our hard hearts and stiff necks. There is Jesus, the stronger one, who by the power of God can take booty from the Satan, the warrior and rescue the captives from a tyrant’s grasp. The prayer that we need is the Prayer of the Heart.
The Responsorial Psalm precisely exhorts us: “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” (Psalm 95). The prayer of the heart is a prayer of intimacy. It is the prayer of love and tenderness of a child to a Father. It is the “Abba, Father”. It is the “Ama Namin.” Like the mother hen, who gathers her chicks under her wings, we, though the Prayer of the Heart, allow God to gather us to Himself--- to hold us, to coddle us, to love us.
It is a call to answer the call of God to warm our hearts. Jean-Nicholas Grou says, “It is the heart that prays, it is to the voice of the heart that God listens and it is the heart that he answers.” So to pray with the heart requires that we pray with simple love. Love is the response of the heart to the overwhelming goodness of God, so come in simply and speak to him in unvarnished honesty. Speak words of love and compassion to the Father. Often we find love language corny and unnatural, but love language is perfectly natural to those who are in love. Falling asleep in prayer is no problem: You can rest in God’s present. To be in the Heart of God is a good and safe place for sleeping. And still, if you cannot find the warmth of love, ask from God to kindle a little fire of love within you, to develop an ache in your heart, to get in touch with that warmth and thirst for love which has turned into embers. This longing and ache for God will draw you back to his loving presence.