8th Sunday of the Year, Year C

Today’s readings invite us to take time out from the many occupations which fill up our days and our nights - the good relationships which we enjoy, and the meaningful and productive things which we do as well as the distracting superficial trivialities that fritter away our time and waste our lives. We are invited to pull back and look deep within at the state of our hearts.

As Jesus says: we draw what is good from the goodness in our hearts, and we draw what is bad from the evil stored up in our hearts. Our words and our action flow from what fills our hearts.

By ‘heart’ we mean the deep, inner centre of our being. Jesus reminds us again and again that it is the heart ultimately which matters. As children we learn to do what we are told, and hopefully those guiding us are wise. As adults we continue to learn from others, but in a more discerning way. We have to learn to make responsible decisions and to trust our own experience. We have to take note of our own consciences and learn to trust our own hearts. We cannot mature into the people we are called to be if we always act on the advice of others and never come to know ourselves. In the Book of Proverbs we read:

‘More than all else, keep watch over your heart,

since here are the wellsprings of life’(Proverbs 4:23).

The Book of Ecclesiasticus tells us:

‘Heed the counsel of your own heart, for no one is more faithful to you that it is.

A person’s soul often forewarns him; it is better that seven watchmen perched on a watch-tower.

And besides all this, beg the Most High to guide your steps in the truth’(Sirach 37:13)

We need the guidance of God because the fact is that our hearts, left to themselves, are small and self-centred. They can be likened to a well whose waters are, to varying degrees, polluted. We have to drink the water, but we need the love of others, and ultimately the grace of God to allow our hearts to be broken open and purified. There is absolutely no substitute for this, and it is here that suffering plays its irreplaceable role.

Suffering, which comes to us in so many ways all our lives, brings home to us, almost unavoidably, the fact that we are not self-reliant, and that we cannot close in on ourselves and find meaning in life. When our suffering is surrounded by the love of the people who are significant in our lives, and especially when these people help us cry to God in our distress, we begin to learn to listen to the deepest yearnings of our heart and to experience that our hearts are made for God and find peace only in breaking open to his love and care.

We find this sentiment frequently expressed in the Psalms:

‘Create in me a clean heart, O God,

and put a new and right spirit within me’(Psalm 51:10)

Our ‘spirit’ is our inmost self where we are in communion with God. Ultimately it is only through this communion that our hearts can be purified. When suffering and hurt causes us to experience the need to reach out to others, and ultimately to God, we experience with the psalmist:

‘The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit,

a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise’(Psalm 51:17).

‘The Lord is near to the brokenhearted,

and saves the crushed in spirit’(Psalm 34:18).

We don't need reminding of the suffering that Jesus experienced. Ignored, rejected, abused, persecuted, humiliated, betrayed by friends, abandoned by his followers, crucified by those to whom he continually reached out in love. It was from this pierced and pure heart that compassion flowed out to others. It was because Jesus was so in touch with his own heart that he continued to look to his Father and to reach out in compassion to the lepers and the blind and lame and lonely in his world. It was from the pierced heart of Jesus on the cross that the waters of baptism and the blood of the Eucharist poured forth to cleanse the world.

It must be the same with us. As Jesus says in the Gospel: the trained disciple will always be like his master. He asked us to learn from him because he is meek and humble in heart.

We are called to help others to remove from their eyes whatever it is that prevents them seeing clearly. But this requires that our seeing is clear. As parents and teachers and friends, our greatest need is for our hearts to be purified by God. The words and actions that come from a pure heart are always words and actions of love. They can bring only healing to others. Left to ourselves, there comes out a mixture of love and self-interest, of healing and hurting.

It is essential that we find the courage to keep in touch with our own heart and allow the fire of God’s love to keep purifying it. No task is more important. Everything we do with and for others depends upon it.

Let us listen Saint Paul’s prayer:

‘I kneel in prayer before the Father from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named,

that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with might through his Spirit for your inner self, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith;

that, with your roots drawing on love and your foundations built into it,

you may have power to comprehend with your brothers and sisters in the faith …

the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge,

that you may be filled with all the fullness of God’(Ephesians 3:14-19).

The purification of our heart seems an endless task, for life keeps revealing impurities there of which we have been previously unaware. Our heart can be quite devious. And so Paul concludes his prayer by reminding us of the wonderful power and persistent love of God:

Now to him who, by the power at work within us,

is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think

to him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus

to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen’(Ephesians 3:20-21)

It is from the well of our own hearts that we draw for ourselves and for others. If the water there is to be pure and life-giving, we must keep drinking from the fountain of the Heart of Jesus. He promised the woman at the well:

‘If you drink of the water which I give you, you will never thirst:

the water I shall give will become in you a spring of water welling up to eternal life’(John 4:14).

If we continue to drink from the pierced heart of Jesus, we will be able to help others to see clearly and to learn to love with unselfish hearts. We will be able to heed Paul’s words:

‘Be friends with one another, moved with affectionate feelings for each other’(Ephesians 4:32).

‘You should be clothed in feelings of compassion’(Colossians 3:12; compare Philippians 2:1).

Likewise, Peter asks the early Christians to be ‘tender-hearted’ to each other (1Peter 3:8).

Let us pray to Mary to open our hearts as she did to the fire of God’s love and to draw each of us and all those whom we love ever deeply into the Heart of her Son. In this way we will be able to obey Paul’s exhortation in today’s second reading to ‘keep on working at the Lord’s work, knowing that in him you cannot be labouring in vain’(2Corinthians 15:58). Please God we will then, in the words of the Psalm, continue to bear fruit right into our old age, living from the heart the life of love for which God created us.