The heart of men

What lies in the heart of men? If we would rely on the introduction from the popular radio series the Shadow, our answer would be – “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!”  Given that we were created in the image and likeness of God, washed clean in the waters of Baptism, we began so hopeful, so innocent. What’s going on in the human heart? “More tortuous than anything is the human heart, Beyond remedy; who can understand it?” (Jer 17:9) In the language of the Bible “heart” means the core of the self, the deepest center of who we are, that place from which our thoughts and actions arise. Today’s gospel is none too hopeful about what lies in the heart of men:

From within the man, from his heart, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile.” (Mark 7:20-22)

This is not a lone passage from Scripture which echoes such sentiment. St. Paul notes the same problem and locates it a failure to believe in and honor God. There are consequences: “God handed them over to their undiscerning mind.” (Romans 1:28) He goes onto describe the result of people looking to themselves for a moral compass:

They are filled with every form of wickedness, evil, greed, and malice; full of envy, murder, rivalry, treachery, and spite. They are gossips and scandalmongers and they hate God. They are insolent, haughty, boastful, ingenious in their wickedness, and rebellious toward their parents. They are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless.” (Romans 1:29-31)

If we are honest, each one of us can see something of ourselves in the list even if it is limited to envy and gossiping. What are we to do? St. Paul saw the root of the problem – the solution lies there, in your heart. Awake each day look into your heart to rediscover your love for God and give Him glory in prayer. Start each day in prayer. Each evening, examine your day and with hope pray:

Have mercy on me, God, in accord with your merciful love; in your abundant compassion blot out my transgressions. Thoroughly wash away my guilt; and from my sin cleanse me…wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. (Ps 51:3-4,9)

Let these be your treasure: “For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be” (Mt 6:21). And in the morn, begin again.

In our midst

In the first reading today, we witness the Ark of the Covenant being moved into the Temple built by King Solomon. To know the story of the Ark of the Covenant is to enter into a geography and history lesson regarding Israel.

From its making in the foothills of Mt Sinai (Mt. Horeb), the Ark resided in a tent during the 40 years of wandering in the desert, finally crossing into the promised land with Joshua, and finding a home in Bethel, and eventually Shiloh – but still in a tent. Continue reading

Compassion

Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.” (Mark 10:47)  Chuck Roberts was not an exceptional person – at least not in the way the world would account for such things. He graduated high school, held a number of jobs, saved a little, married, and settled down to have a family. He was laid to rest at age 32 on a gray raining morning. His wife Marie and their two small children stood at the graveside – no money, no insurance, no near-by family. Chuck was the only wage earner. They had never been rich, but now they were on the edge of poor ready to tumble in head first. Continue reading

The Presence of Mercy

In our first reading for today’s Mass, we encounter Ezra. You might ask, “…and who is Ezra?” The genealogy of Ezra (Ezra 7:1–5) traces his priesthood back to Aaron, brother of Moses. He is also called a scribe, well-versed in the law of Moses (7:6), indicating Ezra’s dedication to the study of the Torah, which he sought to make the basic rule of life in the restored, post-Babylonian-Exile community. It was in religious and cultic reform rather than in political affairs that Ezra made his mark as a postexilic leader. Jewish tradition holds him in great esteem. The Talmud regards him as a second Moses, claiming that the Torah would have been given to Israel through Ezra had not Moses preceded him. Continue reading

A new life

The scene in today’ gospel (a woman caught in adultery) is a mixture of zealous righteousness that seeks to enact the law without pardon or quarter, the leadership who want to trap Jesus between mercy and the Law, and a woman caught in sin, fearing for her life.  The Law commands a stoning to death as punishment for her transgressions. More precisely the law speaks of the death of both the man and the woman involved (Lev 20:10; Deut 22:22-24). The law makes it clear that stoning could only take place after a careful trial, which included the chance for the condemned to confess his or her wrong (m. Sanhedrin 6:1-4). Continue reading

Showing Mercy

Today’s gospel is short, sweet with many good points. Let me muse upon just one: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” One way to consider this admonition is to ponder what are the consequence of withholding mercy.

In the early 19th century, Mary Shelley wrote the novel, Frankenstein.  While we associate the name with the creature, the name is the moniker of the novel’s scientist. This character is often thought about as the archetypical product of the Enlightenment and Industrial Age.

Continue reading

Mercy and Justice

One of the great tensions in thinking about God, reading the Bible, and our own experience of life is how mercy and justice can operate together. That tension is succinctly expressed in two short verses of Scripture:

The LORD, the LORD, a God gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in love and fidelity, continuing his love for a thousand generations, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin; yet not declaring the guilty guiltless, but bringing punishment for their parents’ wickedness on children and children’s children to the third and fourth generation! (Ex 34:6-7)

Our friends at the Bible Project shed light on the context of the verses and give us food for thought about the context for our lives. Please support their great work.

Gift of Mercy

Recently wrote about forgiveness. I started out the column as a reflection on the readings for Advent sometime do not seem to fit the mood of Christmas coming. But then Advent is a time of waiting and reflecting; and to think about gift giving. Forgiveness is one of the great gifts you can give. The end of the post I mused: “What ‘Christmas gift’ comes along with this life of forgiveness? Lower blood pressure, restful night, sweet dreams, peace, no longer being a victim, uninterrupted prayer, a new experience of God’s love… and so much more. Your gift is waiting right there under the tree, the cross of Christ. Go ahead, open your gift. `Tis always the season.’” Continue reading

Being reluctant

In today’s readings for Mass, the refrain of the Psalm is “The Lord is gracious and merciful; slow to anger, and of great kindness.” And that is a great thing to know and recall when we have sinned in ways large and small. And we should turn to God seeking forgiveness and the divine grace to quench our souls.

But how often our dryness has led us to the occasion of sin – and that same dryness keeps us from seeking forgiveness from God – and especially from others. The reading from Isaiah describes it all pretty well: “…the needy seek water…their tongues are parched with thirst. This is when we need to turn to God: I, the LORD, will answer them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them. I will open up rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the broad valleys” (Isaiah 41:17-18)

That’s what God will do for us – and we should drink deeply of those waters.

Continue reading

Judging or Mercy

Today’s gospel is from Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount, Luke 6:36-38. Typically the exegetical break is to include Luke 6:27-36 together with Luke 6:37 beginning a new thought. Not that they are not connected, but nonetheless a new train of thought.

27 “But to you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.29 To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well, and from the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic.30 Give to everyone who asks of you, and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back.31 Do to others as you would have them do to you. Continue reading