Many years ago I received a letter. It was a letter that I wished, snow or rain or heat or gloom of night could have stayed that courier from the swift completion of his appointed rounds. It was a heart-breaking letter from my father, letting me know he had inoperable cancer. “Heart-breaking” is one of the expressions we use invoking the heart. We use expressions such as, “I know that by heart,” we do things “to our hearts content,” and we “cross our hearts” to verify we are telling the truth. Some folks “wear their hearts on their sleeves,” at times are burdened with “a heavy heart,” or blessed with a “heart filled with joy.” Sometimes our “hearts are broken.” It is the poetic expressions that are closer to the heart of the Bible.
In our Sacred Scriptures, the heart is the center of emotions, feelings, moods, and passions. The heart is the cauldron of joy (Deut. 28:47; Acts 2:26), grief (Ps. 13:2; Lam. 2:11), ill-temper (Deut. 15:10), love (Phil. 1:7), courage (2 Sam. 17:10; Ps. 27:14), and fear (Gen. 42:28). A swollen heart breeds arrogance (Isa. 9:9), which is in marked contrast to the gentle and lowly heart of Jesus (Matt. 11:29). The heart functions as the source of thought and reflection (Isa. 6:10; Mark 7:21-23). The heart understands (Deut. 8:5; Isa. 42:25), provides wisdom to rule justly and wisely (1 Kings 3:12; 10:24), and discerns good and evil (1 Kings 2:44). The heart also represents the idea of will and conscience (1 Sam. 24:5; 2 Sam. 24:10). The request for a pure heart is the desire for a new and more perfect conscience (Ps. 51:10; Matt. 5:8). The heart is the center for decisions obedience, devotion, and intentionality (2 Sam. 7:21). Within the heart, human beings meet God’s word (1 Sam. 12:24; Jer. 32:40) and thus it is the location where conversion takes place (Ps. 51:10; Joel 2:12; Acts 2:37). (Achtemeier, Paul J., Harper & Row and Society of Biblical Literature. Harper’s Bible dictionary 1985 : 377)
These are the hearts we bring to everyday life. These are the hearts we bring to this Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. And we are invited to pause and to contemplate two hearts: our own hearts and the heart of the Good Shepherd.
“The lost I will seek out, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal” (Ez 34:16) – such is the promise of God to the prophet Ezekiel. A promise fulfilled in the person of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who is ever seeks us out. “And when he does find [the lamb], he sets it on his shoulders with great joy and, upon his arrival home, he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’” (Lk 15:5-6)
In the readings today we are shown the Heart of the Good Shepherd promised to us; a heart that reveals and extends Mercy and Love. It is a heart that let’s us known we are remembered, welcomed, understood – even with our faults and limitations. Even on the days we don’t feel worthy, we are to know the certainty that we are chosen and loved. In the heart of Jesus we can discover that love is without limit. It is never exhausted and it never gives up.
That is the hearts we are called to contemplate. It is the heart that is held up for our consideration and reflection. It is the heart we are called to hold up as a goal for our own heart.
Before such a Sacred Heart, it is easy to focus on our faults, limitations, and failings. All of us can think of times when it seemed our hearts were darkened by ill-temper, pride, a simmering grudge, and lack of mercy, resentment, and harboring all the flotsam and jetsam from this cauldron called life. Maybe there are times that our hearts were exhausted by disappointment, and reach the point of closing down. These are the “lost sheep” times of our lives – the very times for which the Good Shepherd came to provide the heart that we cannot.
We may easily remember those faults, limitations, and failings, but we would never call them the treasures of our heart. Those are the things we regret. But, what are the treasures of your heart? “Where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” (Mt 6:21) So…what is your treasure? It may take a bit to sort through it all, but, indeed, you will find your true heart. And what then? Then I would suggest you reflect on three actions that emulate the heart of a good shepherd and see if you live them out in your life. The three actions are: seek out, include, and rejoice.
Seek Out: do not put off the search for your treasure; do not think, “I have done enough for today; maybe tomorrow.” Seek out the one that you treasure. And when you find the lost one, remember you are a shepherd, not an inspector.
Include: These treasures are entrusted to you. None are to be excluded from your heart, prayers or smile. With loving gaze and heart, welcome and include them, and if at times there may be a coming hard conversation to resolve difficulties and disagreements. Do not stand apart from your treasure, but always be ready to dirty your hands, sowing God’s forgiveness with generous compassion.
Rejoice: The heart-felt joy of a good shepherd is not a joy for oneself alone, but a joy for others and with others; it is the true joy of love. In the gospel this is the result of finding, but for us it is perhaps the starting point. In prayer we discover God’s consolation and realizes that nothing is more powerful than His Love. It is there we find inner peace, and energy to be a channel of mercy and love that empowers our desire, our need, to seek out and include.
Find your treasures. Begin to live out the three actions of the Good Shepherd. And let “either snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stay” you from your conversion to the heart of a good shepherd.