September 22, 2019

Tilling the Soil in Our Hearts

Upon reading the Gospel of Matthew (verses 13:1-23), we should be totally distraught at the obduracy, the stubborn refusal to change mind, attitude and course of action displayed by some among those who have been directly exposed to God’s Word. It happened at the time of the prophet Isaiah; it happened again with some in Jesus’ audience; it repeated itself with some who heard the Apostles preach and, nowadays too, it can happen again and again.

Gross is the heart of this people, they will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyes, lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and be converted, and I heal them.’ (Mt 13:15)

We must try to appreciate the size of this devastating, irrational heartbreak. What Jesus is pointing out to us, today, is the clash of God’s command to have his Word preached to all crashing against the refusal of those who intentionally closed their minds and hearts to him. We are told by Jesus that, as sower, the Father is one of the worst farmers around. His love for all his children is such that he scatters his seed even in the most improbable, unsuited areas such as on a busy trail, rocky ground and thorn bushes. Nobody can ever accuse God of being less than insanely generous in his sowing! Since Jesus has the same heart of the Father in heaven, we learn that he desires ardently to keep us in the number of his disciples and away from deadly obduracy and hardening of the heart. To this end, it is most beneficial to keep in mind that Jesus is God’s Word.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. (John 1:1-3)

Because of this basic truth, I imagine Jesus gazing, with infinite love, upon all of us, yet with sadness in his voice as he mentions the dreadful possibility that some are so foolishly arrogant and set in their ways that their degree of obduracy will increase to the level at which conversion becomes impossible (barring a miracle) and they intentionally turn down his repeated offers of healing. Here is a first consideration about the size of this tragedy engendered by the hardening of one’s heart: Benjamin Franklin quipped that “nothing is certain except death and taxes.” However, for believers there must be a third certainty: the immense power and efficacy of God’s Word.

So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; It shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:11)

Guns can jam; very expensive cars can break down; the most groundbreaking cures cannot save every sick person. But God’s Word never fails, because God cannot fail in his power, care and love. The certainty of the Word’s power and efficacy is comparable to the one of rain and snow. Without a single exception, rain and snow affect every single square inch of earth upon which they fall. (cf. Isaiah 55:10-11)

This passage on which we are reflecting creates in us the pressing need to ascertain if we can reasonably consider ourselves as being still within the circle of Jesus’ disciples. Just the thought that we might be slowly drifting away from him, away from the circle of his disciples, to blend into the amorphous, faceless crowd, should horrify us.

We should be horrified because, at least occasionally, whenever distracted or absentminded, we might approach God’s Word (Jesus himself) as we would approach a particular article in our daily newspaper or a magazine. In our western world we have secularized, we have gutted out the sacred from our life without realizing the enormity of the peril to which we are exposed.

I can never forget the day when, over 30 years ago, our Thai teacher scolded us because we had put our textbook in the rack underneath our chair. She told us that the Thai language was put together by an ancient Thai monarch and, thus, we had defiled something sacred by putting it under our seat! Her oriental mind maintained that a king is a divine being. Therefore the king who composed the Thai alphabet was still living in anything written in Thai.

I am afraid that we handle the Bible with only the thinnest reverence, much less than we would have while approaching a rare manuscript. Obviously, we do not need to be in a temperature/moisture-controlled environment and wear white gloves to handle the Holy Scriptures. But, every single time, unfailingly, we must be ready to be completely engaged with the second Person of the Holy Trinity whenever we open the Bible in the privacy of our home, or we listen to it proclaimed in God’s house, in our church, i.e. in the community of Jesus’ disciples.

Any bright young man who wants to conquer the heart of the girl that, around the clock, occupies practically 80 – 90% of his mind, plans very meticulously his dates with her; very little, if anything, is left to chance.

Then they said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32)

If we are still genuine disciples of Jesus, we would know what can set our hearts ablaze: we would build up expectation throughout the week for our “date” with Jesus, here in church.

All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. (cf. John 1:3)

Could we imagine meeting anyone more powerful, more caring, more loving and more engaging than Jesus? If we are truly “dying” to hear what Jesus has to say as it is tailor-made exactly for each one of us, would we run the risk of arriving here late after part of the readings has already been proclaimed?

By now we must begin to see how easy it would be to slide into indifference to and obduracy at God’s Word by reacting to it as if it were like the zillions of mostly hollow words that strike our senses because our love for Jesus has become lukewarm.

May the Holy Spirit assist us as we re-till the soil in our heart that is hardened by repeatedly yielding to temptations; remove the rocks of trials that we allowed to overwhelm us; uproot the thorn bushes of worldly anxieties so that our soil may bear quality fruit and yield as much as we can possibly yield by being most generous in responding to our God’s overtures.

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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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