The Heart of the Matter

Homily, Ordinary Time Sunday 22B

I’d like to start off with a bit of Catholic trivia. Did you know that most bishops today, when they become bishops, choose for themselves what’s called an episcopal motto, which is usually a short Latin phrase that they put at the bottom of their coat of arms or their seal? The motto of our own Bishop Paul Swain comes from Psalm 117, in Latin, Confitemini Domino, which translates as, Give praise to the Lord. Now one of my classmates from seminary, with a very interesting sense of humor, said that if there is ever a colony on the moon, and if I should ever become the bishop of the moon, I should choose as my episcopal motto the final verse of Psalm 88, which says, My only friend is darkness. Another priest that I know from seminary says that if he ever becomes a bishop, he wants to have John 15:14 as his motto, which says, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.”

Now most of us don’t really associate commandments and obedience too closely in our minds with the concept of friendship and love. If you had a friend who started to tell you what to do all the time, you might not feel like staying friends with them for much longer. But our first reading today speaks about the gift of God’s Law as one of the earliest proofs of God’s love for His people. The commandments of God and of His Church are not meant to be burdensome to us, but are meant to free us, to help us to steer clear of the dead ends and the roads that would take us away from God and away from our true joy and fulfillment. 

The people of Israel came to see the Law of Moses as God the Creator’s great gift to them, as an insight into His own wisdom and design for everything he had created. God knows us, all of us and each one of us individually. God knows us better than we know ourselves. God knows that because he made us for truth and for love, and because he made us to live in a relationship with Him who is Truth and Love in Person, or rather in three Persons of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, He knows that no matter how much we try to change or deny who He made us to be, things like lying, cheating, stealing, killing, and living in our own selfishness will never truly satisfy us. He revealed his Law, His Ten Commandments to point out to us these dead ends which never lead to real happiness. 

But He doesn’t stop there. God doesn’t just want to change us from the outside, to impose His will and Law upon us from above. God wants our hearts. As we hear in the Gospel today, God wants to transform our hearts and our desires from the inside. That’s why he sent His own Son with a human Heart like ours, to be pierced for our sins, to heal us by his wounds. To die and rise for us, and to send his Holy Spirit into our hearts, to transform us from the inside. 

Even in the Ten Commandments, there’s a sign that God doesn’t want to impose himself from above but wants instead to transform our hearts and desires from within. Usually, commands that we’re used to are phrased like this: don’t kill, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t bear false witness. But God’s Commandments are phrased more like His promises: you shall not kill, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal; you shall be my people, and I will be your God; you shall inherit the land I promised to give to your fathers. Even the Ten Commandments can be understood as promises about how God’s love will transform our hearts and desires if we live in this covenant with Him as part of His family. You won’t kill. You won’t even want to kill because God Himself will be directing your heart and your desires towards your true good and real happiness.

God wants our hearts. He wants us to entrust to Him the most intimate part of ourselves. And in exchange, He offers us with infinite generosity the Most Sacred Heart of His own Son. Ask Jesus today, to take your heart, with all its burdens, all its wounds, all its frustrations, and ask Him to give you His Heart in return, to transform you from within, to purify your desires, and to lead you to your true fulfillment. Too often we ask too little of God. We think we ask too much, and that’s why our prayers seem to go unanswered, but we really ask far too little. We ask God to change the things around us, and often very trivial things, to change our circumstances, when what he really wants to change is our hearts. God wants to transform the world for us by giving us a new heart and a new spirit with which to see and to love everything and everyone around us. Give your heart to God, and ask Jesus for His Heart. We’re not asking too much, because the Sacred Heart of Jesus is exactly what He wants to give us. 

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