Thursday of the First Week in Ordinary Time
January 12, 2023
Today, in Mercy, our first reading quotes at length from Psalm 95, and the message is reprised in the Responsorial Psalm.
Harden not your hearts.
We all know what it feels like to harden our hearts. We do it out of anger, fear, exhaustion, frustration and so many other reasons. We feel like the only way to protect ourselves and our space is to build a wall! Put up those bricks made out of our stony faces, curt words, numbing silence, distancing indifference – our hardened hearts.
Today’s reading tells us that this is never God’s way.
The way to freedom, peace, self-respect, joy and fullness of life is always found in relationship – as God is in relationship with all Creation.
Jesus demonstrates that relationship in today’s Gospel by connecting with the leper. This leper has been walled off from society by illness and disfigurement. Most people’s hearts are hardened against him, but Jesus is “moved by pity” at the leper’s isolation.
The leper, too, has built a bridge by reaching through his own hardened heart in faith and trust. Surely all the years of mistreatment had made him wary of trust, had immobilized him in self-protection. But he allows himself a courageous plea to Jesus, and he is heard.
Jesus Cures a Leper – Rembrandt
It is no easy challenge to soften a hardened heart. Some of our walls are very high, some of our bricks very heavy. But, one by one, we can choose opportunities for forgiveness, kindness, understanding, patience, encouragement, listening and companionship – even, and especially, toward those estranged in any way from us or from themselves. And we can do this even toward ourselves when we have become hardened to our own beauty and goodness.
To begin might take only a smile, a prayer, a phone call, a small kindness, an invitation, a moment of ordinary conversation…. just these might start to crumble a wall, to soften a heart.
Let’s ask God’s grace today to do this heart-softening wherever we might need it. Let’s ask this grace for others in need as well.
Poetry: The Altar by George Herbert – Herbert wrote this poem in the shape of an altar. He describes the spiritual process of allowing his “hard heart” to be built into an altar for God’s praise.
A broken ALTAR, Lord, thy servant rears,
Made of a heart and cemented with tears:
Whose parts are as thy hand did frame;
No workman’s tool hath touch’d the same.
A HEART alone
Is such a stone,
As nothing but
Thy pow’r doth cut.
Wherefore each part
Of my hard heart
Meets in this frame,
To praise thy name:
That if I chance to hold my peace,
These stones to praise thee may not cease.
Oh, let thy blessed SACRIFICE be mine,
And sanctify this ALTAR to be thine.
Music: Soften My Heart, Lord (and adding a second song, just because I think you’ll like it.)