Articles of the Month
"A hardened heart is unable to comprehend even the greatest miracles. But “how does a heart become hardened?”, Pope Francis asked during Mass at Santa Marta on Friday morning.
In the passage of the Gospel according to Mark (6:45-52), we read that the disciples “did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened”. Yet, Francis explained, “they were the Apostles, the ones closest to Jesus. But they didn’t understand”. Even witnessing the miracle, even having “seen that those people — more than 5,000 — had eaten of five loaves”, they didn’t comprehend. “Why? Because their hearts were hardened”.
The Pope said that many times in the Gospel, Jesus “speaks of hardness of the heart”, He rebukes “the stiff-necked people”, He weeps over Jerusalem, “which doesn’t understand who He is”. The Lord is faced with this hardness: it is “such work” for Jesus “to make this heart more docile, to remove the hardness, to make it loving”, Francis continued. And this work continues after the Resurrection, with the disciples of Emmaus and many others.
However, the Pontiff asked, “how does a heart become hardened? How is it possible that these people, who were always with Jesus, every day, who heard Him, saw Him... their hearts hardened. But how can a heart become like this?”. The Pope recounted: “Yesterday, I asked my secretary: Tell me, how does a heart become hardened? He helped me think a bit about this”. Francis went on to indicate a series of circumstances that each person might face in his or her own personal experience.
First of all, Francis said, the heart “becomes hardened through painful experiences, through harsh experiences”. This is the situation of those who “have lived a very painful experience and don’t want to begin another adventure”. This is just what happened to the disciples of Emmaus after the Resurrection, and the Pontiff set the scene: “‘There is too much, too much commotion, so let’s get away from here, because...’. — Because what? — ‘Eh, we were hoping this would be the Messiah, He wasn’t there, I don’t want to delude myself again, I don’t want to create illusions!’”.
This is a heart hardened by a “painful experience”. The same thing happened to Thomas: “No, no, I don’t believe it. Unless I place my finger there, I won’t believe it”. The disciples’ hearts were hard “because they had suffered”. And in this regard, Francis recalled a popular Argentine saying: “One who burns himself with milk will cry when he sees a cow”. In other words, he explained, “that painful experience keeps us from opening our heart”.
Another reason the heart becomes hardened is “becoming closed inside oneself: making a world within oneself”. This happens when man is “closed inside himself, in his community or in his parish”. It is a closing off which “can turn round many things”: such as “pride, sufficiency, thinking that I’m better than others”, or even “vanity”. The Pope indicated: “There are ‘mirror’ men and women, who are closed within themselves to watch themselves, constantly”; they could be defined as “religious narcissists”. They “have hard hearts because they are closed, they aren’t open. And they try to protect themselves with these walls they build around themselves”.
There is yet another reason that the heart becomes hardened: insecurity. It is experienced by those who think: “I don’t feel secure and I am trying to hang on to something to be secure”. This attitude is typical of people “who really stick to the letter of the law”. This happens, the Pontiff explained, “with the Pharisees, with the Sadducees, with the doctors of the law in the time of Jesus”. They would have objected: “But the law says this, it says this up to here...”, and thus “they would make another commandment”; in the end, “the poor souls, they were leaning on 300-400 commandments and they felt secure”.
In reality, Francis pointed out, all of them “were secure people, but as a man or woman in a prison cell is secure behind the bars: it’s a security without freedom”. However, it is actually freedom that “Jesus came to bring us”. St Paul, for example, rebukes James and Peter “because they do not accept the freedom that Jesus has brought us”.
Hence the response to the initial question: “How does a heart become hardened?”. The heart in fact, “when it hardens, is not free and if it isn’t free it’s because it does not love”. This concept is expressed in the day’s First Reading (1 Jn 4:11-18), in which the Apostle John speaks of “perfect love” which “casts out fear”. Indeed, “‘there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love.’ He isn’t free. He always fears that something painful or sad might happen”, which could cause us to “go the wrong way in life or to risk eternal salvation”. Instead, this is only imagined, simply because that heart doesn’t love. The disciples’ hearts, the Pope explained, “were hardened because they still hadn’t learned how to love”.
Thus, here, we can ask: “Who teaches us how to love? Who frees us from this hardness?”. The Pope’s answer: “the Holy Spirit alone” can do so. “You can take a thousand courses in catechesis, a thousand courses in spirituality, a thousand courses in yoga, Zen and all these things. But all of this will never be able to give you the freedom of the Son”. Only the Holy Spirit “moves your heart to say ‘Father’”; He alone “is capable of casting out, of breaking this hardness of the heart” and of making it “docile to the Lord. Docile to the freedom of love”. It is no coincidence that the disciples’ hearts were “hardened until the day of the Ascension”, when they said to the Lord: “Now the revolution will happen and the Kingdom will come!”. However, “they didn’t understand a thing”. In reality, “only when the Holy Spirit came, did things change”.
Therefore, the Pontiff concluded, “let us ask the Lord for the grace to have a docile heart: that He save us from the slavery of a hardened heart” and “lead us to that beautiful freedom of perfect love, the freedom of the children of God, which the Holy Spirit alone can give”.
Working with God
"God is always working through love and it is up to us to respond to Him with responsibility and in the spirit of reconciliation, which gives way to the Holy Spirit. Pope Francis addressed this invitation during Mass on Monday morning in the chapel of Santa Marta.
The Holy Father began his reflection by referring to a passage from Genesis (1:1-19). “Today’s Liturgy of the Word leads us to think, to meditate on the works of God: God works”. In fact, “Jesus Himself said: ‘My Father still works, still acts, still operates; so do I!’”. And in this way, the Pope pointed out that “some medieval theologians explained: first God, the Creator, creates the universe, creates the heavens, the earth, the living beings. He creates. The work of creation”. However, “creation is not the end: He continuously supports what He created, works to sustain what He created in order that it continue”.
In the Gospel of Mark (6:53-56), the Pope indicated, “we see ‘the other creation’ of God”, namely “that of Jesus who comes to ‘re-create’ what has been ruined by sin”. And “we see Jesus among the people”. Indeed, Mark writes: “‘when they got out of the boat, immediately the people recognized him, and ran about the whole neighbourhood and began to bring sick people on their pallets to any place where they heard He was’. And those who touched Him were saved”. This is the “re-creation”, and “the Liturgy expresses the soul of the Church in this, when the beautiful prayer is said: ‘O God, that you created the universe so wondrously, but more wondrously you created redemption’”. Thus, “this ‘second creation’ is more wondrous than the first, this second work is more wondrous’”.
There is then, Francis continued, “another work: the work of persevering in the faith, which Jesus says is done by the Holy Spirit: ‘I will send the Paraclete and He will teach you and remind you, He will make you remember what I have said’”. It is “the work of the Spirit within us, to keep the word of Jesus alive, to preserve creation, to guarantee that this creation does not die”. Thus “the presence there of the Spirit, who keeps the first creation and the second alive”.
In other words, “God works. He continues to work and we can ask ourselves how we should respond to this creation of God, which was born from love because He works through love”. Thus, “to the ‘first creation’ we must respond with the responsibility the Lord gives us: ‘The earth is yours, foster it; make it grow!’”. For this reason, “we too have the responsibility to make the earth flourish, to make creation flourish, to safeguard it and make it flourish according to its laws: we are lords of creation, not masters”. And we mustn’t “take control of creation, but foster it, faithful to its laws”. Indeed, “this is the first response to God’s work: work to safeguard creation, to make it fruitful”.
From this perspective, the Pope continued, “when we hear people hold meetings to consider how to safeguard creation, we could say: ‘No, they are green!’”. Instead, he suggested: “they aren’t green: this is Christian!”. And this “is our response to God’s ‘first creation’, it is our responsibility!”. In fact, “a Christian who doesn’t safeguard creation, who doesn’t make it flourish, is a Christian who isn’t concerned with God’s work, that work born of God’s love for us”. And “this is the first response to the first creation: safeguard creation, make it flourish”.
But, Pope Francis asked, “how do we respond to the ‘second creation’?”. In this regard, he said that “Paul the Apostle tells us the right word, which is the true response: ‘Let yourselves reconcile with God’”. This, he explained, is “that open interior attitude for going constantly on the path of inner reconciliation, of community reconciliation, because reconciliation is Christ’s work”. And Paul also says: “God has reconciled the world in Christ”. Thus, “to the ‘second creation’ we say: ‘Yes, we must let ourselves reconcile with the Lord’”.
Francis then posed another question: “And to the work that the Holy Spirit does within us, of reminding us of Jesus’ word, of explaining to us, of making us understand what Jesus said: how do we respond?”. It is again “Paul who tells us” not to grieve “the Holy Spirit who is within you: be attentive, he is your guest; he is within you; he works within you! Do not grieve the Holy Spirit”. And this is “in order that we believe in a personal God. God is person: He is the person of Father, the person of Son, the person of the Holy Spirit”. After all, “all three are engaged in this recreation, in this re-creation, in this perseverance in re-creation”. Therefore, our response to all three is “to safeguard creation and make it flourish, to let ourselves reconcile with Jesus, with God in Jesus, in Christ, each day, and do not grieve the Holy Spirit, do not push him away: he is the guest in our heart, the One who accompanies us, who makes us grow”.
In conclusion, the Pope prayed that “the Lord give us the grace to understand that He is at work; and give us the grace to respond rightly to this work of love”.
Credits: These articles are directly from Meditations from Pope Francis at the Vatican website--Vatican.va--January/February 2015
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