November 22, 2019

Keeping Our Hearts from Hardening

A preface is necessary in order for us to appreciate and to be affected by this template of God’s Word. We are used to the traditional, conventional Christian understanding that any human being has two components: body and soul.

However, we should realize that this approach is outright skimpy and incomplete if we compare it with the one offered by the Bible. It could not be otherwise since, in order to find the components of a human being, we go directly to God the Creator. Taking the Holy Scripture as our guide, this is what we discover about our nature:

Flesh: the aspect of frailty, miseries and sinfulness.

Spirit, or breath: it is a share in the life of God Himself.

Body and Soul: they go always together because they are the human being itself.

The body would be the human being looked at from the outside in its relationship to the outer world. The soul is the human being from within itself.

And, then, for the Bible, there is the most important component, the heart.

The heart is the core, the center of the human being in its relationship to God, to other human beings and to creation. Everything good and bad comes from the heart.

But it is not finished.

We are also shaped, conditioned and identified according to the groups, culture, clan, nation in which we are born and to which we belong.

Finally we are impacted by being creatures of the same Creator God amid a wonderful variety of creatures which affect and influence us all in many ways.

Why is this preface so important?

It is so because of the crucial role that our heart plays in our rapport with God, with our neighbor and with creation itself. The official prayer of the Church has been, from the earliest time, the liturgy of the hours (breviary). Well, in the liturgy of the hours, each day begins with Psalm 95.

Oh, that today you would hear his voice: Do not harden your hearts as at Meribah, as on the day of Massah in the desert.

This is the refrain. It is simply awesome yet very somber at the same time.

From day to day, we run the risk of hardening our heart and, thus, of throwing our entire being out of whack with dire consequences for ourselves and for others.

Let us look, for example, at Jesus’ reply to those who objected to His teaching on marriage and divorce. “Because of the hardness of your hearts He wrote you this commandment.” And also, in the Letter to the Hebrews (2:10): “[He] should make the leader to their salvation (Jesus Christ) perfect through suffering.”

The heart is truly the component that makes us children of God, able and willing to love and serve Him and our neighbor. That means that the heart makes us “perfect” and pleasing to God OR leads us to self-destruction.

In light of that we can also understand this, seemingly, mysterious phrase: He who consecrates and those who are being consecrated all have one origin. The heart of Jesus who consecrates us in the Truth and we who are consecrated in Truth through God’s Word and the Sacraments can trace our common origin, in particular the creation of our heart, to the same God Who is LOVE.

With this new understanding we can now garner a comforting lesson from Genesis (2:18-24). We do that as soon as we modify the translation a little. Referring to the first woman created by God, the correct word is not “partner” but rather “helper.” This is very significant especially if we remember that, for the Bible, God Himself is man’s helper and vice versa! This simply means that, according to the intention of the Creator God, two hearts that beat the way intended by Him are attracted to each other, respect each other, consider each other as equals, are drawn to a perfect union of their entire two beings into one flesh, and are open to life.

As we can see, the Bible doesn’t hold women in a subservient position but rather teaches that, at least in Holy Matrimony, the woman takes God’s place as man’s closest and direct helper for the creation and the nurturing of a possible new life!

Let us look now at the flipside of the coin: What happens when the heart hardens? We have simply to take a quick look at the situation in our country: senseless violence, broken families, exploitation of women, irresponsible, sterile sex, artificial contraceptives, abortions, dismembering of viable children and sale of their body parts for profit, hedonism (the seeking of pleasure for the sake of pleasure) be it pornography, be it self-stimulation, be it homosexual acts) and so on, God’s intention is violated and the culture of death triumphs.

The cycle continues with scary consequences for all. For example: first adultery springs in the heart, then it becomes refusal to sacrifice oneself in love for someone else, separation, divorce, broken families, violence, miseries of all kinds: all stemming from hardness of the heart.

What to do?

The letter to the Hebrews repeats several times the phrase of psalm 95, if today you hear his voice harden not your hearts. Then it goes on to tell us that Jesus, our leader, was made perfect through suffering. Within the mystery of life on this earth, suffering is endured for those whom we love. We endure sufferings for our own personal sake and/or for the sake of those who are dear to us. The more we are willing to suffer for others the softer our heart will become. And, the softer our heart, the more we would be willing to carry out in factual deeds the New Commandment of loving each other as Jesus, our leader, loves us (Cross).

That New Commandment is proposed to us each time we receive our incarnate God in Holy Communion so that we have a good chance of keeping our hearts from hardening.

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Written by
Fr Dino Vanin

REVEREND DINO VANIN, PIME was born in Cendon di Silea, Province of Treviso, Italy in 1946. He entered the PIME Seminary at Treviso at the tender age of eleven. He came to the U.S. in 1968, studying Theology at Darlington Major Seminary in New Jersey. He has an MA in Secondary School Administration from Seton Hall University. Ordained in 1972, he served as an administrator, teacher, rector and principal at the PIME High School Seminary in Newark, Ohio before being sent to the missions of Thailand, where he served for six years. He is currently the Treasurer of the U.S. Region of PIME in Detroit. On December 16, 2018 he was installed as Pastor of San Francesco Catholic Church in Clinton Township, MI. Every week he takes some time off from his parish ministry to do some administrative work at PIME headquarters in Detroit. Due to his increased workload at the parish while continuing as Treasurer of the U. S. Region of PIME and as counselor and spiritual director, he spends any time left doing a little woodworking.

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Written by Fr Dino Vanin
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