The grace of compassion and generosity is highlighted in the life of Jesus who gave his life by offering himself for our sins. The book of Hebrews speaks powerfully of the sacrifice of Christ. The widows, too, were acting sacrificially in their particular situations. It’s all about giving; it’s all about the heart; it’s all about what really matters.
Mary Oliver, a contemporary poet, offers this reflection: “Every morning I walk like this around / the pond, thinking: if the doors of my heart / ever close, I am as good as dead.” Given the turmoil and violence in our culture, it is easy to close the doors of our heart. We may be asked to take in the stranger, the immigrant, the person who has hurt us in the past. Quite easily we can build up barriers to the hurts and pains of daily life.
In celebrating the Scriptures and the Eucharist, we are being invited to put on the mind and heart of Jesus. His heart is open and alive. It is also a sacrificial heart ready to be offered for the well-being of others. It’s a heart keenly aware of what really matters.
St. Therese of Lisieaux wrote about an experience of traveling to two different convents. In approaching the first, her heart contracted; in approaching her beloved Carmel, her heart expanded. On the spiritual journey, it behooves us to be aware of events, attitudes and behaviors that contract or expand our hearts. Here is one of the secrets of discernment: What expands our hearts, creating space for compassion and love, is from the Lord; what contracts our hearts, making them narrow and cold, is a warning that we are on dangerous ground. It’s always the heart that matters.
In Mary Gordon’s novel, “The Company of Women,” we hear a character describe her situation: “Love left my heart and that is hell, to be unable to feel the heart, to have a heart of stone, an indigestible hardness in the very center of one’s being, so that all movements that sustain life grow full of effort and the dreadful torpor of despair sets in.” Jesus and the widows knew the writings of the prophet Ezekiel wherein God speaks about giving us a new heart, a heart of flesh. And time and time again, hear that what God promises, he will do.
One last word on the heart from the great spiritual writer Romano Guardini: “none of the great things in human life springs from the intellect; every one of them issues from the heart and its love.” Jesus lived this sacrificial love overflowing into joy and peace.
Questions for reflection
1. What really matters in life?
2. How do we keep our hearts sensitive and vibrant?
3. In what sense is the heart the site of love and compassion?
Bishop Morneau is the auxiliary bishop of the Green Bay Diocese and pastor of Resurrection Parish in Allouez.