We assess our life reasonably, weighing what does and doesn’t impede love.
Why do you let us wander, O LORD, from your ways,and harden our hearts so that we fear you not? – Isaiah 63:17
Lockdown, quarantine, pandemic, sickness … this is just the beginning of the things that occupy space in our hearts. How will I get what is important to me? How will I see the ones I love? Each of us has been forced to ask these questions. Throughout the pandemic each of us has had to consider life’s priorities anew. We’ve had to take stock and inventory what is and isn’t central to life.
Believers must make value judgments based on our faith. Our love and expression of our desire for God comes first. To fall away from the Lord, to begin to seek comfort and consolation in things other than Him, causes our hearts to harden. We become less and less capable of loving if we fail to love the one who is most loveable. God, the origin of all love, pours love into our hearts and thereby gives us the ability to love in return.
Anatomically when the heart stops, blood ceases to be moved throughout the body. Blood delivers nutrients and oxygen making it possible to live. If the heart muscle loses its flexibility, if the muscle begins to harden, the body begins to fail. Without the heart, the body cannot survive physically.
Spiritually too we must avoid a hardened heart at all costs. We must keep to the ways of the Lord, looking always to God to be the source and direction of our love. As we begin this Advent season, we are called to a new examination. To prepare our hearts to relive the holy mysteries of God’s love, we must look into the depths of our inner selves and cast out all that is an obstacle to love. We must exercise our hearts, stretching them, keeping them ever able to spread life and love.
In speaking of love and the spiritual life, however, we must be wary of speaking simply at the emotional level. To love the Lord Jesus means to live a Christian life. It must mean something deeper than merely affective or sentimental attachment. We assess our life reasonably, weighing what does and doesn’t impede love. So, then, how do I know if I have a hardened heart?
1.- Do I seek the Lord?
Sunday Mass, making a regular confession, daily prayer. These are the fundamentals of the spiritual life. God will always remain far from us if we do not seek his grace in these basic and first ways. We can meet God in the Eucharist. And if we cannot at the present time receive Him at Sunday Mass, we can share in celebrations of his Word in our homes. And if we can’t spend time reading Scripture, we can watch Holy Mass and participate virtually. Confession will renew us, wiping away our sins. Morning and evening prayers even if all we do is recite the Our Father and thank God for his goodness — will imbue our hearts with grace.
2. –Am I bitter?
Here, I mean unforgiving. Forgiveness is a difficult labor, one which can only be undertaken with strength that comes from the Lord. God gives the power to forgive. But we can make progress and take steps to healing resentments by asking God to help us to want to forgive. By asking God to help us desire forgiveness, he will open our hearts to the way of his mercy.
3. – Am I proud?
Do I believe that my plans are the best ways to live my life? If we are not looking for the Lord every day, we will miss his action in daily life. God is not absent from our work, our families, our friends. He is there, in the midst of all of these things, calling us to love. Often we overlook Him, though, because we are not content with his plans. We prefer our own goals and dreams, rather than looking for the paths he wishes us to follow.
4. – Am I indifferent?
Sloth is an old word. Today we are probably more inclined to say something like indifferent. It’s more than laziness. Indifference is a kind of sorrow that impedes love. Indifference is coldness which freezes that heart, impeding the strength to share life and love. It has been said that hate is not the opposite of love, indifference is. Each of us must ask: Are there things in my life I choose to be indifferent about because love seems too demanding?
5. – Am I shallow?
Am I more concerned with how my life looks on Instagram than how my life actually is? Do I think too much about possessions and acquiring comforts in life? If image and luxuries take hold of our hearts, they begin to shape the very way we live.
6.- What do I talk about?
If our hearts are consumed by politics, gossip, celebrity news or professional advancement, there will be no space for higher things. Often the priorities of heart are manifested by what we talk about. Do I talk about my life of faith? Am I concerned about hearing how people are really doing? Do I invest in meaningful relationships?
This Advent, let us cultivate hearts that fear God. This fear is neither cowering nor servile. A heart that fears God is a heart with the Lord at the center of life. Let us cast out the things that threaten to harden our hearts. Let us love, really love, that our hearts may be renewed this Advent season.