Fr. Justin Sheehan, OCSO
3rd Thursday of Lent
“If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts”. This hardening of the heart is a spiritual disease, and the liturgy this morning invites us to examine ourselves, and see if we have any of the symptoms, because our love cannot grow each day if our hearts are hardened, nor will we be ready to celebrate the great paschal mystery, if Christ cannot touch our hearts.
One symptom of hardening of the heart is to listen to God’s Word and immediately think it applies to someone else. For example, in the first reading, God is recorded as saying, “They walked in the hardness of their evil hearts and turned their backs, not their faces, to me.” So what else is new, we may think. “How odd of God / To choose the Jews”, and all that. Nothing to see here; move on to the Gospel.
Not so fast. To paraphrase John Donne, “Ask not to whom the Lord speaks; / He speaks to you”. If you always do whatever you want to do, and indulge any and every evil whim so long as nobody gets hurt, then you’re paying a lot more attention to everyone else than to God, and you and He need to talk, because you’re developing hardness of the heart.
There is a standard remedy for hardening of the heart, and it is conversion of life, or what monastic tradition has called conversatio morum. The word conversatio seems to come from the Latin versatio cum, that is to say, a turnaround. The idea behind conversatio is that we discover that we have let God down in some way, which is to say that we have sinned. That’s a start, but there’s one more step to go.
Instead of turning our backs to God, we turn our faces to him. Actually, this turnaround is not something we can do by ourselves; it is always a “turning with” Christ. We allow him to turn us around, gently, by the finger of God, which is the Holy Spirit. As often as we turn away from the Father, conversatio morum calls us to turn back to him with Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, and not let discouragement lead us to hardening of the heart.
If this morning you hear God’s voice saying, “You’re not living the way I tell you. You’re refusing all discipline”, that’s not said as a put down. It’s the Divine Physician giving his diagnosis as hardening of the heart, and inviting us to an about-face. Like the mute person in the Gospel, we need not say anything at all. Just receive Jesus into your heart at communion, and allow him to drive out everything there that prevents you from turning to the Father. And the angels of God will rejoice.