Concerning the Heart

thumbnail30I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened….(Ephesians 1:16-18)

I am writing this on Holy Saturday, that very quiet day in the midst of what the Church calls the Triduum, culminating in the central Fact of human existence, the fact that after necessary suffering we can, in Christ, rise again and “never die,” as He promised so clearly.  Today we must take one day more to endure the realization of that necessary suffering.  This is a day in which pondering the suffering of the Woman who “pondered all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:19) can deepen our own heart-knowledge of the sacred heart of Jesus.  This is a day, given to us each year, in which we can, along with the neighbors of Zechariah and Elizabeth (Luke 1:65,66) lay up in our hearts all that is astonishing and central to the Christian revelation, without discarding any of it, even the hardest truths to accept and to live out in our own lives.

One interesting aspect of living as a protestant (especially as an Evangelical) for six decades of my life was our approach to Easter each year.  There are some protestant churches who celebrate Holy Thursday and Good Friday with reverence, and even some liturgical involvement depending on just how much they are willing to enter into their own traditional forms of worship which have been borrowed from historical Catholicism and Orthodoxy.  But I found that the overarching mind-and-heartset among protestants tends to make them skip over the days of Holy Week (not to mention Lent) in an optimistic and often faith-filled rush towards the Resurrection without much pondering on the pain of the sword which pierced the hearts of Jesus and His Mother (Luke 2:34,35). It is the same idea as that which considers a crucifix (the necklace of a cross “with a little man on it”) as gruesome and, at best, unnecessary in light of the fact of the Resurrection’s centrality in the life of a Christian.  I know that for many years the idea of concentrating for any lengthy period on suffering, even the suffering of Christ, seemed to me an incomplete acceptance of all the wonderful gifts of Jesus which He wants us to claim even in this life; it seemed to me a refusal of His happy will for us here and now.  He conquered sin, suffering and death, so why on earth waste even one precious day wallowing in those unhappy aspects of life which He overcame for us?  Let’s get on with it!  Don your Easter garb and shout, “Alleluia! Praise the Lord!”

My protestant friends and family surely wonder at times how I, of all people, managed to regress to the point of becoming Catholic.  And there is really no way to explain it fully without mentioning  “the problem of pain,” as C.S. Lewis simply and famously put it.  Here and now, in this pre-heavenly existence where even now Jesus has promised that our “joy may be full” (John 15:11) we suffer still; and we watch, day in and day out, and to some extent enter into, the great suffering of our fellow human beings.

During the Jewish feast described in John 7, “Jesus stood up and proclaimed, ‘If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink!  He who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, “Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.”‘ Now this He said about the Spirit…”  When did the water and the blood literally flow out of Jesus’ own heart?  It was when the sword pierced it. And the ongoing pain of that sword-thrust was intense, one can imagine, in the heart of the Lord’s mother on the day we call Holy Saturday, that day of silence in which nothing seems to be called for except the excruciating endurance of great suffering.

It is vital to begin to acknowledge that without an acceptance on our part of the ongoing suffering of Jesus and His Mother in relation to us here on earth, in relation to all of our needs, all of our pain, all of our persevering love for those He loves and wants with all of His heart to redeem and save eternally–without a deeper and deeper acceptance on our part of this reality of divine and human life in union with each other, we end up with some kind of heart trouble.  The rivers of living water flowing from our own hearts become blocked and we enter into a more or less superficial, often self-protective, more or less despairing, more or less tepid existence, even as professed Christians.   And I have found that the wise liturgical seasons and celebrations of the Catholic Church, steeped in the most important traditions and Tradition, are truly vital in keeping the flow of the Spirit strong and deep and full in an individual’s and community’s life in Christ.

Fr. James Kubicki writes, “If we are truly to know someone, that person needs to reveal himself or herself to us.  And then we must be humbly receptive to what that person says to us in words and deeds.  As this is true in human relations, it is also true in our relationship with God.  We come to know God deeply by our hearts, not our heads.  Knowledge of God is true wisdom because it knows, not simply outward appearance and personal data, but also the interior of another….To know God and not just about God we need God to reveal himself to us.  God does this through Jesus, ‘the human face’ of God as Pope Benedict likes to say, and through the Holy Spirit.  For as Paul wrote, ‘Among human beings, who knows what pertains to a person that is within?  Similarly, no one knows what pertains to God except the Spirit of God’ (I Corinthians 2:11).  We need the Holy Spirit to guide and strengthen us, to overshadow us, so that Christ may dwell in us and fill us with intimate knowledge of himself and his love, which surpasses all of our human capacities to understand.”  (A Heart On Fire, p. 9)