Each of the lessons taught in today’s Gospel could be expanded into an entire book. The core of them all, however, is in the heart. Now certainly, our exterior behavior must follow God’s will. This is what Jesus means when he says, “Do not think I have come to abolish the law…” But Jesus is trying to tell us that exterior behavior, that appearances, are not enough. For a true, faithful citizen of Christ’s Kingdom, the attitudes and desires of the heart must also be in harmony with God’s plan for our lives. This is what Jesus means when he says: “I have come… to fulfill…” – to bring the Old Testament Law to its fulfillment. Friendship with God (which is what Jesus offers) requires a union of hearts. Our heart united with His.
Christ is explaining the Law from this perspective when he explains the true meaning of sinful anger, lust, and lying. If God “wills all to be saved” (1Timothy 2:4), how can our friendship with Him be complete when we harbor resentment or contempt towards some people, or tarnish their good name by spreading rumors about them or speaking ill of them? How can I live in intimacy with a God who loves every man and woman as a father loves his children, when in my heart I desire to use some of them only as an object of pleasure and self-indulgence? How can I be a true friend of God, when I make promises that I don’t intend to keep? Some may be satisfied with merely exterior observances; Christ, however, is interested in our hearts as well. His heart seeks our heart. His heart wants our heart.
There was a woman in 17th century France who as a young girl repeatedly sought our Lord’s loving heart. She wrote in her autobiography, “All my desire was to seek happiness and comfort Him,” and in front of the tabernacle she would meditate on our Lord’s great loving heart. The woman’s name was Margaret Mary Alacoque. She was born in 1647 and when she was eight years old her father died making it necessary for her older sister and her older sister’s husband to take charge of the family’s business and household. This was bad for Margaret because from this point on she was treated little better than a slave. It was during this time that she repeatedly sought the peace of our Lord housed in the Church’s tabernacle. However, as it was quite a distance away from home, she was rarely allowed out to go to the church. They didn’t believe that she was going to pray. “Oh sure you’re going off to pray,” they would say. They thought it was an excuse to go off and meet some boy or some other mischief. As she got older there was extreme pressure for her to marry and move out. But she refused all offers of marriage. Finally, at the age of twenty four with the financial help of an older brother she was able to enter the Visitation Convent.
Her first days at the convent were not easy. She was described as quiet, slow, and clumsy. However, two years after joining the convent, she was blessed by our Lord on December 27th, 1673. On that day she received her first private revelation, an encounter with the Risen Lord. She was alone kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament exposed on the altar, and all at once she felt herself, as she said, invested by the divine Presence and she heard our Lord inviting her to take the place which St. John had occupied at the Last Supper. It was St. John’s feast day after all. And she was to rest her head upon His heart. Our Lord told her that the love of His heart must be made known to all men and women. Margaret Mary was to be His instrument in getting the message out about the infinite love of His Sacred Heart. During the next eighteen months our Lord continued to appear to Margaret Mary explaining and developing the first revelation.
This devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus was revealed at the height of the Jansenist movement. Jansenists saw God as harsh and not all loving and not merciful. These revelations given to St. Margaret Mary reminded the Church that Christ, though the second person of the Trinity, was a true man of flesh and blood, and possessed, therefore, a human heart, but a human heart that knows how to love perfectly. He loves in a perfectly human way. It was the love of Jesus for His heavenly Father and for all of us which motivated every action of His life, especially His redemptive act of sacrifice on the Cross. Jesus wants us to be at home in His heart. It was pierced so that we might enter and make whole and soften and purify our own hearts.
Now in the Gospel Jesus is very practical about what can corrupt our hearts. He identifies anger, lust, and dishonesty as hidden viruses capable of damaging, and even destroying, our integrity, our very souls. But if we are honest with ourselves, all of us will have to admit that we struggle with temptation in each of these areas. So what are we to do? When Jesus looks at our hearts, He does not look away. No! He comes with the medicine of his grace to cure us. He wants us to drink deeply of the spring of water and blood that flow from His Heart. Let yourself be generous in receiving that grace.
“If you choose,” the Book of Sirach tells us, “you can keep the commandments; they will save you.” Every day of our lives, we remain free to choose which thoughts and actions we will commit to, godly ones, or selfish ones. When a lustful thought flashes through our minds, we don’t have to accept it – we can reject it and turn to Jesus and Mary instead. When selfish anger boils up in our hearts, we don’t have to let it rule our lives – we can turn to Christ on the cross and learn from him how to turn the other cheek. When we are tempted to get ahead by compromising the truth, we can hold our tongues and cling to Sirach’s promise: “Before man are life and death, good and evil, whichever he chooses shall be given him.”
Jesus wants us to choose life, a fulfilling life here on earth and eternal life with him in Heaven, by choosing to reject temptation and follow him. During this Mass, he will give us the grace we need to make that choice, every day. Let’s thank him for that, and put his grace to good use.
At Mass you are standing before the Good and merciful and loving Heart wounded Jesus. You are standing before the open Heart of Jesus and he says to each of us, “Give me that anger, give me that lust, give me that dishonesty, and give me that pride. Give me all your sin, give it up to me, put it right into my heart and I will take care of it.” Choose life and good, drink deeply from the springs of love that will refresh and delight and strengthen your soul.
Peace and all good,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley