Heart or Mind – Solomon’s Choice

Last night I was watching a show about the technology created during and for World War One which enabled mankind to kill each other in the greatest acts of butchery mankind had ever known up till then. As I was watching this documentary I couldn’t help but think of our first reading today and realized that there are two paths mankind can take in regards to enlightenment: intelligence or wisdom – or put another way: mind or heart.

Mankind, with the inception of the ‘so-called ‘Age of Enlightenment’ has seen great scientific and other advances that amaze and impress us with our intellectual greatness; and in doing so has moved us further away from God, from wisdom. This success lead mankind to rely on themselves, on their intelligence, as the answer to everything. Humanity’s great hope of holding in their own hands the answers to everything and the control of their own destiny has proved time and time again a false hope. Pope Benedict XVI, during a meeting with the Diocesan Clergy of Aosta, said: ‘there is growing evidence that a closed rationalism, which thinks that human beings can rebuild the world better on their own, is not true. On the contrary, without the restraint of the true God, human beings destroy themselves.[1] Mankind’s intellectual abilities has brought about enormous advances and, as the documentary the other night showed, horrendous abominations. Because a society built on the mind, the intellect, alone has no appreciation for anything other than advancement for advancement’s sake – it lacks a moral compass. The twentieth century is the ultimate example of what happens when mankind decides on mind over heart.

King Solomon, on the other hand, shows humanity what is truly important. ‘Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.[2] His request points to two great attributes of leadership and, for that matter, any position.

  1. Humility – Solomon asks God that he be able to understand God’s people. Solomon holds no false idea of his greatness – He knows that God is ruler of all and that He is just a servant to both God and God’s people.
  2. Heart over mind – In Old Testament times the heart was viewed as more than an organ; it was the very center of the soul – where the Holy Spirit dwells and where God meets man and where man can be whole and entire. This is where wisdom resides since wisdom is God’s ability to see and judge things as they really are. Solomon wants understanding/wisdom more than intelligence – to understand those God loves is how he can best serve them.  He isn’t impressed by his capabilities to be the best, the smartest – he just wants to be a good and wise steward.

It is this wisdom that affects mankind’s intellectual ability.  With wisdom – mankind’s intellect is capable of God inspired goodness.  The sciences and technology are servants of the people. Without wisdom (understanding) man’s intellect is capable of God condemned atrocities. Again, intelligence alone has no moral compass. The reason that wisdom does have a moral compass is because wisdom, as Catholics see it, comes from, as Pope Francis reflected on, ‘intimacy with God, from the intimate relationship we have with God…And when we have this relationship, the Holy Spirit endows us with this gift…and the Holy Spirit transfigures our heart and enables it to perceive[3] as God does.

This decision is more far-reaching that just our personal decisions about ourselves.  Do we choose those as friends, as elected officials, as role models that espouse mind or heart, intellect or wisdom?  If careful choices were made at the turn of twentieth century maybe there wouldn’t have been that documentary I just watched. If careful decisions were made throughout history think what could have been. Well eternity starts now, history starts afresh right now – let’s make history.

 

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[1] L’Osservatore Romano 7/25/2005
[2] 1 Kings 3:9
[3] L’Osservatore Romano 4/11/2014 (English edition, general audience)

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Two Questions

While reflecting on the Gospel reading for today two questions came to me – two I don’t have answers for – two I would like to share with you.

How am I doing?
The first is this:

For me, and I would venture to say for many, a major worry about my faith journey is, that I am not sure how well I am doing. Am I putting enough of myself into my relationship with God? I find it hard to gauge my participation in my salvation. At times my journey seems good. At other times I hear in my mind a saying from St. Jose Maria Escrivá ‘You say you can’t do any more, could it be that you can’t do any less.[1] And other times it seems to me that I am on my own on this path with no inkling as where I am in my effort.

This has always been a concern; since Old Testament times God’s people have been concerned with this same question – How am I doing? The Psalms are full of supplications for help with our journey caused by our anxiety with how we are doing; and a foreboding that we don’t have much time. ‘Show me, Lord your way so that I may walk in your truth.  Guide my heart to fear your name.[2] We hear in Psalm 86. And in Psalm 90: ‘Our life is over like a sigh. Our span is seventy years or eighty for those who are strong.  And most of these are emptiness and pain. They pass swiftly and we are gone.. Teach us to count our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart..[3] And on and on. Even in today’s Gospel we hear Christ warning us that time is short by telling us that hell is real and judgment will happen.

Desire
But also in today’s Gospel Christ talks about what is important for a successful journey that for me is summed up in one word – Desire.  At first reading we see Jesus telling his disciples and us about how we should view heaven.  His three examples point out that we should desire heaven as the most precious thing in our lives.  As a treasure, as fine pearls, a great catch of fish.  And that is exactly how we should place heaven in our lives – we should desire it above all else.  To be with God, to be in heaven, which is our home is the most important goal we can have.

But it isn’t this desire that struck me this week.  Let’s look at two of these three examples again.

  • ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.’
  • ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.’
  • ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind.’

The last two examples have a different point of view than the first.  In the first example Heaven is like a treasure buried in a field that we are searching for.  In the last two examples, however, Heaven is doing the searching (or catching). Heaven desires us as well.

  • God is searching for fine pearls of great price – us. We are the pearl that’s price was paid for by Christ on the Cross.
  • God’s net is constantly thrown out to bring us back to him.

Brothers and Sisters God desires us!  He spares nothing to bring us within His loving embrace.  Christ says this throughout His ministry:

  • there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.[4] We hear Him tell us in Luke.
  • And again in Luke we hear: ‘I tell you, there will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents.[5]

This intensity of God towards me, this desire, is both reassuring and disconcerting. And it leads me to my second question that I ask myself and I put to you.

Do I desire God as much as He desires me?

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[1] The Way, St. Jose Maria Escrivá
[2] Psalm 86:11
[3] Psalm 90: 10 & 12
[4] Luke 15:7
[5] Luke 15:10

Our Parable

Three years ago, in his Angelus reflection at Castel Gandolfo, Pope Benedict commented that Parable of the Sower was in a certain way an autobiographical passage: ‘for it reflects the very experience of Jesus, of his preaching[1]  In this parable we see Jesus spreading the good seed to everyone and the results are determined by the hearts and minds that accept the seed, the word of God. This parable has some very relevant points for us, especially as we enter into the New Evangelization.

Seed is for everyone
Jesus’ method of spreading the good news, sowing the seed, is not targeted in an exclusionary way, (though God started with a select people He eventually expanded to include all mankind) – He proclaims to everyone.  His mission is to bring the Gospel to all of creation; how they respond is up to them but they deserve to hear it.  God loves everyone, no exceptions.

Love continues
Because of God’s love for us this message is never forced so it runs the risk of being rejected. However, even though many people will close their hearts to the message, or struggle and fall away, God’s love doesn’t end.  Love is who God is, this can’t change or as Timothy writes ‘he cannot deny himself[2] though speaking of His faithfulness it holds for His love as well.  Christ will not stop loving and therefore will not stop proclaiming to those He loves – again and again and again.

This our autobiography
What Christ experienced during His earthly ministry we should expect as well.  Our apostolate is to continue Christ’s mission.  We should learn from our master and do the same; sow the seed everywhere, proclaim the Gospel to everyone; and we should expect the same results, varied, depending on the hearts and minds of those who hear us.  We should expect nothing less as Christ tells us so many times ‘No disciple is above his teacher…[3] he tells us in Matthew; and again, in John: ‘‘No slave is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.[4], and so our results will be the same as His.

The Parable Continues
The Parable of the Sower is our story as well and our story continues.  Our lives which we have given to Christ will experience what He did and we should rejoice in that fact.  We will go out into the world and introduce them to our loving brother and Lord.  We will witness to the joy and peace that a life with our best friend brings.  We will be a living example of Christ’s Gospel, and in doing so our lives will radiate what is missing in society today. We will sow God’s Word.  What happens then is not in our control, because it is not in God’s control; though He and we will continue to love (and we will continue to pray for) the recipients.  This should give us great comfort, we are not expected to change people’s hearts we don’t fail if we don’t quit sowing.

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[1] L’Osservatore Romano (English Edition 7/13/2011)
[2] 2 Timothy 2:13
[3] Matthew 10:24
[4] John 15:20

I asked Jesus to Leave.

As members of the Mystical Body of Christ we all like to be uplifted by great deeds and saintly actions. We look to each other for reinforcement and strengthening by our works for the Lord.  Especially on this 8th anniversary of our Vesper group I wanted to inspire you. But, sadly we also fail; we let Jesus and each other down.  If our individual sins damage our relationship with God and each other – our selfish actions, which might not be sinful, nonetheless weaken His mystical body and each other.  Tonight, I ask for your forgiveness in being a cause for this weakness.

There is this new series on cable TV titled ‘Satisfaction’.  It is about a married couple who are unfaithful to each other – it makes infidelity very glamorous.  This past Friday afternoon, while being bombarded with the commercial trailers for this show I started to get angry with the station and with those who decided to create this debauchery.  That I thought their actions were despicable was justifiable – it was a show that made cheating very enticing and as such it was a temptation to sin. But my disgust and judgment of the people who created it was wrong; after all who am I to judge – that same Friday night I put Jesus out from this church and into the night.

I came to preside over our Friday Night Holy Hour and then stay for our All-night Vigil for the Sanctification of Families.  When I got to church I was wondering if anyone would even show up, it was the 4th of July – sure enough there wasn’t anyone there – except one person.  There, in the dark, was a homeless man.  He was just sitting there with a shopping bag next to him, probably holding all his possessions.  He was sitting quietly, either dozing or praying, probably a little of both.  By the time Holy Hour started there were 5 others there, including our Pastor; but by the time the Holy Hour was done and I was returning to continue the Vigil it was just Father and the Homeless man leaning over sleeping.

As Father was leaving I told him that I was nervous about spending the night alone with this man and that I was thinking of cancelling the Vigil.  I did.  About an hour later no one had come to the vigil so I went to the man and told him I was leaving.  He said he was waiting for the priest and was disappointed when I told him he had already left.  He said he wanted some clean socks.  Though I didn’t have socks I did give him some granola bars, listened to him for about 10 minutes – then walked him out.  He was pleasant enough; then as he walked into the darkness I knew that I had just asked Jesus to leave the church.

I failed in my ministry as a Catholic. St. Francis embraced and kissed a leper, I told the leper to get out. I can’t help but feel sadden by my less than Christian action.Isaiah tells us:

Share your bread with the hungry,
and take the poor and homeless into your own house.
Then your light will break forth like the dawn and your holiness will go before you.[1]

I wanted to come this evening and congratulate each of us for 8 years of Sunday Vespers, I wanted to pat us on the back.  But, instead God tapped me on the shoulder and held a mirror to my actions and let me see what St. James meant: ‘What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.[2]

The mirror showed me how I failed – how I put ‘me’ first and Christ second. How my faith died.  But, we deal with a Lord who returned from the dead, and He returns within us as well – when we have a fallen like this, to build us even stronger.

Brothers and sisters, may my failure bring me to a better understanding of my calling and my weaknesses.  May my failure reinforce in me that being a disciple is a constant activity; that I should look for Jesus in everyone and not count the personal cost in helping Him in others.  And, may my failure, in some small way, help each of you as well.

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[1] Isaiah 58:7
[2] James 2:14:17