What God Wants … A meditation for Lent, Ash Wednesday 2001
Fr. Bob Papi
A university student phoned me and recited a list of things they intend to give-up, to sacrifice, this Lent.
Admirable and important as it is each Lent to embrace fasting, the foregoing of something as sacrificial offering to God, there is more, much more to the fullness of Holy Lent.
Thus, after that phone call, I found my heart recalling various passages from Sacred Scripture which reflect something else God wants of us.
Something He wants of us not just in the holy season of Lent, but each day of our lives:
Sacrifice and offering You do not want; but ears open to obedience You gave me. [Ps.40:7]
Offer praise as your sacrifice to God; fulfill your vows to the Most High. [Ps.50:14]
For it is love that I desire, not sacrifice, and knowledge of God rather than holocausts. [Hosea 6:6]
Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body You prepared for Me; holocausts and sin offerings You took no delight in. Then I said, "As it is written of Me in the scroll, Behold, I come to do Your will, O God." [Hb.10:5-7]
My sacrifice, God, is a broken spirit; God, do not spurn a broken, humbled heart. [Ps.51:19]
Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.[Mt.5:6]
For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.[Mt.6:21] Go and learn the meaning of the words, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' [Mt.9:13]
Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am meek and humble of heart. [Mt.11:29]
… you shall love the Lord, you God, with all your heart … [Mt.22:37ff]
And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. [Lk.2:19]
… His mother kept all these things in her heart. [Lk.2:51]
A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good … [Lk.6:45]
But as for the seed which fell on rich soil, they are the ones who, when they have heard the Word, embrace it with a generous and good heart, and bear fruit through perseverance. [Lk.8:15]
Do not let your hearts be troubled … [Jn.14:1]
Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. [Jn.14:27]
… I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you. [Jn.16:22]
… one soldier thrust his lance into His side, and immediately blood and water flowed out.[Jn.19:34]
Were our hearts not burning within us as He spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us? [Lk.24:32]
Several years ago a friend wrote to me, having been recently thrown off balance by their spiritual director who had posed this question to them:
"Why did you think you could love without a broken heart?"
Christ Himself loves us with a broken-open heart!
The Church has always seen in the breaking open of His Sacred Heart the gushing forth of the sacramental life of sanctifying grace.
There on the cross, Jesus Himself, is crying to the Father, offering to the Father "a broken spirit … a broken, humbled heart"[Ps.51:19].
Jesus tells us to learn from, to imitate, His Sacred Humble Heart [Mt.11:29].
Naturally enough it is much easier to give up candy or beer or tv, or just about anything, rather than to risk our hearts being broken open.
Yet only if we contemplate, only if we willingly stand before the generosity of, the absolute trust in the Father of, Jesus Himself on the Cross, with His own Heart broken open, will we ever begin to understand, and risk, the necessity of our own hearts being humbled, being broken open.
It is the work of the Holy Spirit to configure our hearts to the Heart of Christ. Therefore, we must call upon the Holy Spirit to teach us. We can do this confidently for Jesus Himself assures us the night before He died that:
" … when He comes, the Spirit of Truth, He will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on His own, but He will speak what He hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming. He will glorify Me, because He will take from what is Mine and declare it to you. Everything that the Father has is Mine; for this reason I have told you that He will take from what is Mine and declare it to you." [Jn.16:13-15]
This mystery of the breaking open of our hearts is a Trinitarian mystery!
It is communion of love with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit! It is the essence, the perfume of Holy Lent — the true "sweet-smelling" offering. It is the holy mystery of absolute self-gift, the pouring out of love from one heart to another: the Father to us through the gift of Jesus to us; Jesus from the Father to us through His Passion, Death and Holy Resurrection; the Holy Spirit from the Father and Jesus to us.
This Trinitarian out-pouring is really just "the first" out-pouring.
The second out-pouring is us, each of us, one to the other: husband to wife, wife to husband, parents to children, children to parents; brothers and sisters to one another; neighbour to neighbour — even if the "other" neighbour be apparently disguised as within the mystery of Christ coming as stranger, prisoner,lonely, naked, hungry or thirsty. Yes, even pouring our self out as gift to our enemies. Perhaps most especially that particular out-pouring. For myself, and all priests, the sacramental out-pouring of ourselves to everyone, for we have been ordained to be the shepherd-father and father-servant of all.
Again we can only begin, moment after moment, by contemplating our Divine Lord of the Broken-open Heart, begging the Holy Spirit to configure us to Him:
" … one of the soldiers pierced His side … immediately there came out blood and water … they will look on the One whom they have pierced." [Jn.19:34-37]
This is the sobering reality: our own sins are the actual lance that pierces His Most Sacred Heart, yet He longed to have His Heart broken open that His Sacred Blood, the infinite river of mercy, might gush along the very lance thrust into His Heart, pouring into us and washing away our sins with the full force of floodwaters of grace!
Only if we contemplate the broken-open Heart of Christ will we ever begin to understand why our own hearts need be broken open if we are to truly know we are beloved of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit — and in turn to love ourselves authentically — one another unreservedly.
Jesus pours out, through the reality of His Passion, Death and the piercing of His Sacred Heart — in His Resurrection, through the sacraments: Baptism as the gateway to the river of grace; Confession, wherein we receive grace for the true repentant conversion of our hearts; Holy Eucharist as the sacramental communion of love — this river of life! His Divine Life, Fire, Love — and through Jesus the fullness of life, fire, love from the Father and the Holy Spirit.
This is the lavishness of the Holy Trinity!
This is our God, never outdone in generosity!
Jesus, through His redemptive self-sacrifice of Himself makes this Divine Gift, this Divine out-pouring touchable, receivable, indeed livable and something we can share, with each other, through humble-loving service of one another.
Jesus comes at the door of our being, knocking [Rv.3:20]. If we will but open to Him this flood of sacramental life, gushing forth from His broken-open Heart, will flow into our beings until our very hearts — our entire being — become a chalice into which Jesus has promised: " … gifts will be given to you: a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing … ".
In fact He uses the lavish term: " … will be poured into your lap." [Lk.6:28]
Here again we encounter this essence of mercy over sacrifice for in order that we might be a vessel capable of receiving such Divine largess Jesus in the preceding verse commands us to: " Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven." [Lk.6:37]
That is the key which unlocks the door of our being at which the Divine Giver knocks, a door which only has a lock on the inside — in our hearts.
Forgiveness, compassion, love of other is the key!
This infinite flood of grace released and lavished upon us through the generosity of His pierced Heart flows from that broken open Heart which moments before being torn open by the lance had already cried out to the Father: " Father, forgive them, they know not what they do." [Lk.23:34]
This should be the cry from each of our broken-open hearts on behalf of one another, especially of our enemies.
This flow of grace is all penetrating, all sanctifying. It is a perfumed holy anointing. Indeed we are anointed with sacred chrism at our Baptism and Confirmation, thus permeated with the holy perfume of the Blessed Trinity. The house of our being infused with the indelible sacramental seal.
The Lenten challenge is will we bring this perfumed light of Gospel life and love which is within us through sacrament into the lives of our brothers and sisters through humble loving service?
" … Mary brought in a pound of very costly ointment … she broke the jar … and with it anointed the feet of Jesus, wiping them with her hair; the house was full of the scent of the ointment … " [Mk.14:3]
If we allow our hearts to be broken open then we shall truly love and all of creation, the entire human family, each individual heart, will become full of the scent of the perfume of God — Jesus!
The truth is " … we are only earthenware jars that hold this treasure … " [2Cor.4:7].
Jesus IS the treasure!
We should rejoice and take comfort in our being rather fragile, hence easily broken open. " … to make it clear that such an overwhelming power comes from God and not from us … " [2Cor.4:8], that is, the power of love!
We must be broken open to fulfill our baptismal participation in the priestly, kingly and prophetic mission of Christ.
After His Holy Resurrection Jesus comes to us, doubting and struggling as we often are, and invites us to touch Him by touching His Holy Wounds that we might believe.
" … Jesus came in and stood among them. ' Peace to you.' He said. Then He spoke to Thomas, 'Put your finger here; look, here are My hands. Give Me your hand; put it into My side. Doubt no longer but believe.'" [Jn.20:27]
We must allow Him to touch us in the depths of our wounds that we might live.
We can become more than a little anxious when we finally come to understand the necessity of having our hearts broken open so that we might truly love.
Broken to us means damaged, wounded, hurt — perhaps we fear the damage is un-repairable, the wounds cannot heal, the hurt will never go away. Broken to us means weakened in some immense manner physically — or even more fearfully, emotionally — perhaps we fear being handicapped or "out-of-control" — worse, not being "in-control"! Broken most of all means being unloveable.
To be broken carries within its image the sum of all our deepest wounds and vulnerableness.
We are more at ease fending off hurt than embracing suffering, seeking a place to flee from pain rather than choosing to be one with the crucified One.
To be broken- open is too much exposure and tears away at the ancient wound of original sin, shining a light into the shadows where we cower because we too, like Adam before us, have chosen sin over trust and thus find ourselves in bondage to fear, even when we hear the Father calling to us and the only answer we can give Him is: " … I was afraid because I was naked so I hid … " [Gn.3:10]
Once again we must come to the Cross — specifically to He of the broken-open Heart upon the cross — for Christ Jesus has taken our naked shame and broken its claim on us by allowing Himself to be exposed, vulnerable, unhidden on the Cross.
In so doing — if we would allow our hearts to be broken open that He might enter through the door of our being — Jesus has turned our shame into hope, our nakedness into dignity, and through Baptism mandates us to be "salt of the earth — light of the world " [Mt.5:13,14] calling upon us to " love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Heavenly Father … "[Mt.5:44,45].
This is our redemption brought about by Christ's self-sacrifice, self-gift, and handing Himself over that His Heart be pierced open. Through His passion, death and resurrection for us shame becomes dignity, fear becomes hope, hiding because afraid becomes boldness of Gospel light, sin is washed away by Mercy's Blood that we might become mercy and love for one another.
Once again it is sacramental reality — especially in the Holy Eucharist where we are most fully configured by the Holy Spirit to Christ of the broken-open heart: " … Broken and distributed is the Lamb of God, broken and not dismembered, always eaten and never expended, but making holy those who receive It … " exalts St. John Chrysostom, and the whole Church with him, in the Divine Liturgy.
So too shall the Holy Spirit move within us, breaking open our hearts but not dismembering us either — even though in the painful process of being broken open it may feel as if we are being dismembered!
Once He has configured us to our Eucharistic Lord and Saviour Jesus of the Broken-open Heart, then we too can be "distributed", as it were, by the Holy Spirit so we might serve the suffering Christ, the lonely Christ, the hungry Christ, the naked Christ, the thirsty Christ, the imprisoned Christ, the dying Christ.
In particular to serve Him in the hearts of those who do not know He loves them because they are so filled with despair, hurt, anger or even that hatred which designates one human person as enemy of another.
As St. Paul so simply yet powerfully states it, we are called to "Bear one another's burdens … " [Gal.6:2] and thus fulfill the "law" of Christ: "This I command you: love one another." [Jn.15:17]
We probably would be less resistant to having our hearts broken open if the process of having our hearts broken open by the Holy Spirit was somewhat benign: in the depths of deep sleep or the heights of some mystical experience.
In reality it is more likely our hearts will be broken open through our very struggle with faith, with God, as Jacob struggled [Gn.32:23-33], and, or in our willingness to be touched in the deepest wounds in our being, as the beloved is in the Song of Songs: "My lover put His hand through the opening; my heart trembled within me, and I grew faint when He spoke." [Sg. of Sgs.5:4].
Mostly we are broken open through the nitty-gritty of the ordinariness of daily living, the immediate tasks and struggles of each day within the reality of our vocation in marriage and family life, where we work, relations with others, the daily duty of the moment, the burden of ill health, the challenge of advanced years, the upheavals of day in and day out living as pilgrims on this earth:
"Therefore that I might not become too elated, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of satan to beat me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.' I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ, for when I am weak, then I am strong." [2Cor.12:7-10].
Only someone who has allowed their heart to be broken open could have uttered those words!
Jesus at the very beginning of His public life for our redemption makes it clear that " … the Spirit of the Lord has been given to Me, for He has anointed Me. He has sent Me to bring the good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, and to the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free, to proclaim the Lord'"s year of favour." [Lk.4:17-19]
Because we are endowed with free will Christ can only come at the door of our being, the door of our hearts, and knock.[Rv.3:20]
Because we have free will it is thus the urgent and persistent work of the Holy Spirit Himself, dwelling in us through Baptism and Confirmation, to urge us to open wide the doors of our being to Christ, to the Father, to Himself: Romans 8, in particular verses 5-9; 14-17; 26-28.
Because of what happens, however, when we are sinned against or sin ourselves, we become like a sealed jar, a walled up tomb, become the very hiding place where we tremble in fear, like Adam and Eve before us, at the sound of our Father'"s voice.
That is the ultimate tragedy of sin: we fear the very source of our being, the very Abba who loves us.
We need to be broken open.
We are the captives.
We are entombed, either by our own sins or those committed against us, like Lazarus. [Jn.11, esp. v.43,44]
Christ has come to set us free and throughout Holy Lent He calls to us: " … come out!", out from where we are hiding, out from the darkness, from the tomb!
Christ seeks to shatter the jar of our illusions, to roll away the stone, which has sealed us inside a place of darkness, fear, and death.
He wills to scatter the darkness and fill us with the utter fullness of the Gospel of life and love, the utter fullness of divine Trinitarian life:
"From His fullness we have all received grace in place of grace … "[Jn.1:16]
"For we who live are constantly being given up to death for the sake of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh." [2Cor.4:11]
"I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given Himself up for me." [Gal.2:19,20]
"for all of you who were baptized with Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ." [Gal.3:27]
"As proof that you are children, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying out, 'Abba, Father!' So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God." [Gal.4:6,7]
How can we doubt that this having our hearts broken open is anything other than the prime purpose of Holy Lent?
Faith is a willingness to say: "Yes, you may break me open Holy Spirit. You may empty my being of all that is not holy, set me free from the captivity of fear, doubt, sin, fill me in my poverty with the Good News, restore my sight, for I have allowed myself to be blinded by the allures of this world."
Yes, it is important during the holy season of Lent to embrace the simple practice of fasting and increased intercessory prayer for the conversion of the whole world, the return to the sacraments of those who have fallen away.
At the same time Lent is the season of grace wherein we can begin in Him again to open wide the doors of our being, to allow our hearts to be broken open to love — that we might trust we are beloved and trust enough to love.
These thoughts are offered not as a definitive meditation on this mystery of Christ of the Broken-open Heart, and the need of our own hearts being broken open, but rather as help for meditation.
Thus for all of us I close with the great prayer for conversion, the breaking open prayer if you will, from St. Paul:
"For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that He may grant you in accord with the riches of His glory to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner self, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine, by the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen." [Ep.3:14-21]
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