- The Abbey of the Genesee - https://www.geneseeabbey.org -

March 3, 2019

Fr. Justin Sheehan, OCSO

8th Sunday in Ordinary Time

When the Bible speaks of the heart, it means a kind of storeroom within a person, and out of that storeroom flow all the reactions of the spiritual life. The book of Proverbs puts it this way: “Keep vigilant watch over your heart; that’s where life starts” (Prov 4:23).

It is the heart which determines whether a person is good or evil. As Jesus says in this morning’s Gospel: “A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good, but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil”, meaning that the inner movement of the heart rubs off on the whole person, on every thought and word and deed. You can’t open your mouth without disclosing what’s in the heart, “for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks”. Your true being brims over into true words and deeds.

Becoming a good person means keeping watch over the inner movement of the heart, which St Paul calls “the work of the Lord”, confident that nothing we do for him is a waste of time or effort. Monastic tradition identifies this “work of the Lord” as purifying the heart. The insight here is that grace can penetrate thought and will and consciousness and all the parts of the body, if it reigns in the heart.

In one of his homilies, the desert father St Macarius says, “Take the example of a great palace that is deserted and all kinds of stench and odors and many cadavers come out of it. So also the heart is the palace of Christ, and it abounds with every kind of impurity and with great crowds of evil spirits. It is, therefore, necessary to repair and rebuild it; its storerooms and bedrooms must be cleaned up. For Christ the King with his angels and spirits is coming so that he may find his rest, he may live and move about freely and set up his kingdom”.

But why did God choose the human heart as his home, and give it the first commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart” (Deuteronomy 6:5)? Because the heart has a quality that makes it the source of all life (cf. Prov 4:23). The heart is, in some sense , the holy of holies of a human being. That’s the one quality that makes it worthy of God. So if you love God with all your heart, that means that you love him with all that you are, that you give yourself entirely to him.

And when St Macarius says that the heart includes the mind and consciousness and thoughts, he’s put his finger on the main reason why God is interested in the human heart and its love. God is not interested in an emotional love, however fervent it may be, because that kind of love is subject to feelings which can be hurt or wounded. Those feelings can get in the way of doing the work of the Lord.

God cares about the love of the heart, the love in which we give ourselves and give all that we are, the love that only grows stronger with all hurts and pains, the love that takes the sting out of death. That’s why purifying the heart is so important for those who want to love God. God will not settle for a part-time love or a divided love. The heart has to be wholly his.

“With all your heart” means a heart that can’t be swayed by how you happen to feel at the moment, or by what your friends or relatives might say, or by any psychological baggage you might be carrying. “With all your heart” means with a heart completely purified of all your idols and favorite distractions from God. You have a holy of holies within you: let it be dedicated and decorated for God alone.