Preparing for a heart transplant during Lent

By Steve Pable | Special To The Compass | March 11, 2021

Editor’s note: The COVID-19 pandemic has made us reflect on what is most important in life. During Lent, The Compass offers an eight-part Lenten series of reflections on how readers can take their experiences from 2020 and apply them to Lent and Easter 2021.

I’m preparing to have a heart transplant this Lent.

OK, not literally. Yet the procedure I’m undergoing is even more life-saving — more life-giving  — than a surgical heart transplant. This Lenten season, this annual examination of conscience, is a prolonged response to the promise given in the prophet Ezekiel. We are to receive a heart of God’s own making. “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ez 36:26).

What might this heart transplant look like? What are the stony parts of my heart that are resisting the transformation that the Father offers? How will my new heart respond and interact with those around me?

Because we have been baptized in water and the Spirit, our hearts are made new after the pattern of the heart of Jesus. We learn to love as he loves. When we reflect on the love of Jesus, we see that it is not a generic love. Jesus isn’t just a “people person,” with a broad affection for humanity. He loves us in the particular. He loves specific characters in their unique circumstances. He loves them despite their individual sins and weaknesses. Jesus loves Zacchaeus. And Matthew. And Mary Magdalene. And the Samaritan woman at the well.

Do I believe that Jesus loves me this way? Can I love others this way? With the heart of Jesus, can I love my grouchy co-worker? My annoying neighbor? My addicted nephew? My gay sister? My atheist son?

When we observe Jesus, we notice another characteristic of his heart. It is constantly expanding. The heart of Jesus stretches ever outward, giving more people access to touching him, and to being touched by him. When the heart of Jesus is active in a community, or in a family, this divine love provides a river of life flowing freely. When hearts of disciples are transformed in a parish, the “surface area” of that community grows to bring others into contact with the Gospel, and with the person of Jesus.

This is the nature of the Christian practice of almsgiving. A heart made new by Jesus becomes more generous, and more compassionate to those in need. Opening my heart requires constant vigilance against selfishness. Can I be humble enough to be challenged and shaken out of my complacency? St. Basil understood this in preaching a fourth-century homily on the Gospel of Luke: “When someone steals another’s clothes, we call them a thief. Should we not give the same name to one who could clothe the naked and does not? The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry; the coat unused in your closet belongs to the one who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the one who has no shoes; the money which you hoard up belongs to the poor.”

The Holy Spirit convicted me with a powerful witness to these words when I needed it. One recent afternoon, I shared this quote on our parish Facebook page. Moments later, completely out of the blue, I got a phone call from a parishioner who wondered if there was a way to offer support to someone in our community. In a similar vein, I’ve seen numerous individuals turn their economic impact payments into generous acts of charity for their neighbors. Their outward focus has been a great inspiration and example of the Heart of Jesus.

In our own modern context, Pope Francis echoes the same ongoing call to conversion of heart. He invites our cooperation with Jesus to be missionaries of mercy. “The Lord promises refreshment and freedom to all the oppressed of our world, but he needs us to fulfill his promise. He needs our eyes to see the needs of our brothers and sisters. He needs our hands to offer them help. … Above all, the Lord needs our hearts to show his merciful love towards the least, the outcast, the abandoned, the marginalized.” (Homily, Mass for Migrants, July 6, 2018)

As we make our way in this holy season, may our prayer, our self-denial and our acts of charity help to transform our way of loving and living. May the heart of Jesus take the place of our hearts of stone, individually, in our communities, in our nation. May our hearts beat in time with his, that we would become instruments of his mercy.

Pable is a practicing husband and father of four, working in pastoral ministry at St. Gabriel the Archangel Parish in Neenah.

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