June 27, 2022
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The Hardening of Our Hearts

The Hardening of Our Hearts

We are often confronted by painful reminders of how the culture of death is hardening the hearts of many and, thus, devastating our country and large portions of the world also in ways not readily evident. If some of us need evidence of this hardening of hearts, let them just observe the contorted faces of abortion activists as, enraged, they shout obscenities and threats in front of the Supreme Court building. 

Could they be possessed by a demon? The contrast with the serene and joyful faces of those participating in Marches for Life is simply striking! Basically, the culture of death affirms that individuals can decide who gets to live and who can be legally eliminated.

The hardening of the heart in some people has reached such a scary level that any personal inconvenience is reason enough to dispose of unwanted human life, from “the inconvenient” to “the useless;” from the baby of “the wrong sex” to the weak, and the less-than-perfect, the too expensive to treat; from some babies in the womb to the sickly, the aged and the terminally ill…

In opposition to all of this, our readings for the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time are a hymn to the culture of life—even life beset by weakness, trials and the inevitable pain which our human frailty drags into us, as the Letter to the Hebrews (7:23-28) indicates. This is possible because Christ, the High Priest, lives forever to make intercessions for us, before the Father, the source of all life, so that we, too, may join in a continuous celebration of life.

Our first reading (Deuteronomy 6:2-6) and Gospel passage (Mark 12:28-34) instead, show us why life is to be celebrated and how. Simply put, no individual can explain his/her existence without, ultimately, recourse to God, the Source of all life. Thus, any celebration of life, to be properly done, must be rooted not in the finite but in the Absolute, in God, recognized as our Creator, lawgiver and final destiny.  

Historically, the people of Israel, the people the Lord had chosen to be His very own, understood this all too well; in the sense that in their effort to be anchored totally in God as the Source of life and to show their love for Him, a good number of them kept multiplying His precepts. By the time of the episode recorded in today’s Gospel passage, they had come up with 613 precepts, thus creating a lot of confusion in people’s minds. This explains why a scribe, one of the experts of the law demanded a much needed simplification from Jesus: “Which is the first of all the commandments?” The answer that Jesus gave him was precise, liberating, clear, correct, but also radically new. In the same breath Jesus places two commandments: (love of God and love of neighbor) into one, on equal footing. From 613 to one!

Today, as Jesus indicates to us how we are called to celebrate life by loving God with the totality of our being: energies, heart, inner disposition, drives, and by loving our neighbor as ourselves, he is showing the path our life must take to be a joyous celebration regardless of the trials we encounter on the way. Both at the supernatural and the natural level, love is the source of life and joy.

God did not have to create the universe and fill it with life. It is because He is infinite love that He created the human race in His image and all other forms of life so that He can share His love and care with all His creatures. And it is by simplifying all the precepts into love of God and of neighbor that Jesus, God in human flesh, gives us access to the Father’s love, life and joy. 

“As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love.” (John 15:9)

 “[…]I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10)

“I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.” (John 15:11)

The mingling of love, life and joy at the supernatural and natural levels is most evident as, made one flesh by love, parents become co-creators with God of a new life and rejoice in that new life. But, even whenever we succeed in conquering our innate selfishness and choose to truly love, we feel immediately more alive and experience a rush of supernatural joy! We should allow this experience of feeling more alive and even inexplicably joyful, whenever we love, to sink in and remain imbedded in our soul; we sense it there regardless of the intensity and frequency of pain and sufferings and the inevitable trials of life. Conversely, we should also be convinced that, regardless of frequency and size of comforts, perks, privileges and enviable conditions, the proponents of the culture of death are, by choice, handcuffed in their loving and in their life-giving efforts and, therefore, deprived of lasting joy.

How blessed and privileged we are: we have within our grasp the way of celebrating life that is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices, i.e., a way of celebrating life that gives meaning and substance also to our worship.

During the Last Supper, at that first Mass, Jesus reiterated the extent of the loving he expects of us:  I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. (John 13:34)

Now we have a new and clearer reason to make us eager to gather in our church to do Eucharist: through each Holy Communion we can inch, closer and closer, to loving our brothers and sisters the way Jesus loved us on the cross; closer and closer to experiencing fullness of life; and a more intense joy that gives us a concrete foretaste of the joy which will be ours for all eternity.

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Written by
Fr Dino Vanin

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