Friday, 4th Week in Lent
IVE Ven. Fulton J Sheen House of Formation
I don’t know about you, but I find it difficult to open these plastic containers in which things like razor blades are packaged. They are sealed very tight and it’s hard to find an opening. What’s more, the sharp edges on the hard plastic cuts my fingers.
I mention this not to elicit your sympathy but to make a point. I sometimes wonder if God himself, in all his omnipotence, doesn’t regard the human heart the way I regard these hard-to-open packages? Not impossible – just really difficult to pry them open…
In point of fact, today’s Scripture readings are about hardness of heart and also about brokenness of heart, if I could put it that way. What a good occasion to examine our own hearts in these waning days of Lent so close to Holy Week and Easter.
II. The Book of Wisdom
Let’s turn to the Book of Wisdom where the wicked are plotting against a righteous person who closely resembles the “suffering servant” found in Isaiah. In no way has the just one harmed or wronged the wicked. Rather, by his faithful adherence to God’s Word and his advancement in the ways of God – the just one stands as an indictment against the wicked.
For the wicked, this just man stands as a stumbling block. They take offence at him, imagining that he is judging them harshly. And so they resolve to put him to the test and kill him. Yes, the wicked have hardened their hearts against the just man. How can God open hearts that cannot stand the mere sight of a righteous person?
III. The Gospel
The scene depicted in the Book of Wisdom finds fulfillment in the Gospel. Here, Jesus is the righteous one of God. But he is more than a prophet, more than a suffering servant. He is the Son of God sent by the Father to redeem the world, in a word, he is the Christ, the anointed one of God.
Almost from the beginning of his ministry, the leaders of the people hardened their hearts against Jesus. They took offence at his miracles of healing, often performed on the Sabbath. They took offence at his followers who ate and drank while they fasted. And they took explicit offence at Jesus’ teaching, especially his claim that he was sent by the Father.
Now, they plan to put the Son of God to the test, to see if he is truly the Messiah of God and ultimately they will crucify the Lord of glory. They have hardened their hearts against Jesus and thus they do not know who is truly is and where he has come from.
IV. The Responsorial Psalm
What a contrast between these two readings and Psalm 34 which intervenes between them: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; and those who are crushed in spirit he saves. Many are the troubles of the just man, but out of them all, the Lord delivers him.”
Jesus, though sinless, was brokenhearted for our sins. Think of how the Lamb of God took upon himself the sins of the world as he underwent the agony in the garden and then suffered and died to save us from our sins. As Jesus underwent this indescribably difficult ordeal, he was accompanied by God the Father and by the Holy Spirit. In this most profound sense, the Lord was close to the brokenhearted. Crushed in spirit, Jesus was raised up on the third day.
V. The Challenge
These readings should really challenge us in a deep and personal way. Because we are priests and those aspiring to become priests, we may think we can safely assume we’ve opened our hearts to the Lord. And just speaking for myself, I pray every day for the courage to do. Yet I know how easy it is for me to close my heartto those parts of the Gospel that continue to challenge me.
How easily I can be like one of those packages I can scarcely open. I’m going to wager that you might find the same reality when you, with the light of the Holy Spirit, you look deeply and prayerfully into your own hearts. For us who are “in religion” (as they say), hardness of heart can be masked by religious devotion and dedication to duty. We may see on the outside to be among the Lord’s best disciples but on the inside we may have all but shut the Lord out of hearts.
The secret to wholeness is contrition. The broken heart is the heart that is on the way to that fullness of truth and love which the Lord ardently desires for us and for every human being without exception. That is why the secret to discipleship is a continual spirit of repentance, a spirit that does not doubt the Lord’s mercy but rather rejoices in it. For the mercy which the Lord lavishes upon us does not condone our sins but rather restores our dignity by leading us from sin to grace and from grace to glory.
Every morning we pray: “If today you hear the voice of the Lord, harden not your hearts.” Today in Morning Prayer we said: “A broken, humble heart, O God, you will not spurn!” Only then will we welcome the Lord into our hearts and our communities. May God bless us and keep us always in His love!