[In the Church, June is the month devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. July is a month devoted to the Most Precious Blood of Our Lord. As a people of faith, as we celebrate the national holiday of July 4th, let us also remember the price that was paid for our salvation.]
“Our words are useless unless they come from the bottom of the heart,” said Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Words that come from the bottom of the heart are words that heal and comfort. It takes time to form words that offer the healing power of Christ—because silence is the foundation for discernment, the awareness of the presence of God. Words are formed by the heart, spoken from the mouth. “A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart, produces good, but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil; for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).
The Way of the Heart, Listening for God’s Voice
If the human heart is burdened by accumulated resentments, bitterness, condemnation (of self and others), criticism, and judgment, it may be difficult to find the bottom of one’s heart, without first doing a little “digging”—to surrender to the Lord those obstacles which keep us from acting on the love of God:
“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ but not do what I command? I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, listens to my words, and acts on them” (Luke 6:46-49). In this passage, which describes the ‘two foundations’ upon which a ‘house’ rests—a foundation laid upon rock, or one with no foundation, Jesus calls his followers to act on his words.
In The Way of the Heart, Henri Nouwen wrote,
“The wisdom of the desert is that the confrontation with our own frightening nothingness forces us to surrender ourselves totally and unconditionally to the Lord Jesus Christ. Alone we cannot face the ‘mystery of iniquity’ with impunity. Only Christ can overcome the powers of evil” (19).
Nouwen wrote about the experience of St. Anthony, an Egyptian peasant, the ‘father of monks’ as a conqueror of hearts and instrument of spiritual wisdom because of his experience in solitude in the desert where he was transformed, not overnight, but over many years. Nouwen noted that people recognized in St. Anthony, an “authentic ‘healthy’ man” who was gentle and kind, surrendered to the “Lordship of Jesus Christ.”
Finding Joy and Peace, Trusting God in the Desert Moments
Many of us have been called to a state of life that does not make a literal desert journey possible. In considering Scripture and what happened in the desert, I’d be a bit intimidated. The truth is, though, we encounter deserts, daily. Look closely into the desert of your life—the sorrows, the pain, the experience of our human weakness, and the concupiscence that touched all of humanity. We have a choice between good and evil.
So how do we surrender ourselves in the desert of our own lives, in the anticipated hope of the solitude which enjoys communion with God, and peace with neighbor?
Breathe in deeply—
Lift your heart to the Lord, daily.
Be with God alone.
Find a time every day to devote to prayer.
Nouwen wrote about visiting Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, asking her how he should live his vocation as a priest. She said, ‘Spend one hour a day in adoration of your Lord and never do anything you know is wrong, and you will be all right” (21).
Nouwen affirms that a direct and intimate encounter with the Lord in solitude is a “place of purification and transformation.” The world needs to encounter people who have been touched by the love of God, purified and transformed—people who act upon the words of Christ because Christ has acted upon their lives.
Nouwen also describes St. Anthony’s answer to Abba Pambo, who is reported to have asked how he should please God. St. Anthony said, ‘Do not trust in your own righteousness, do not worry about the past, but control your tongue and stomach.’
The Passions and Free Will – Choosing the True Good
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states,
“In themselves passions are neither good or evil…the passions are “said to be voluntary, ‘either because they are commanded by the will or because the will does not place obstacles in their way.’ It belongs to the perfection of the moral or human good that the passions be governed by reason” (CCC 1767).
Sometimes, in the experience of strong feelings, our words fail us—challenged to direct our words and actions by an “upright will which orders the movement of the senses it appropriates to the good and to beatitude; an evil will succumbs to disordered passions and exacerbates them” (CCC 1768).
The saints were sinners. They journeyed in a world “in a state of journeying” in their pilgrimage on earth. We are called to a journey which holds the beatific vision on the horizon, sharing the compassion and the hope of the Cross, as we face ‘the mystery of iniquity’.
Nouwen affirms that compassion grows in solitude and prayer:
“It is in solitude that this compassionate solidarity grows. In solitude we realize that nothing human is alien to us, that the roots of all conflict, war, injustice, cruelty, hatred, jealousy, and envy are deeply anchored in our own heart. In solitude our heart of stone can be turned into a heart of flesh, a rebellious heart into a contrite heart, and a closed heart into a heart that can open itself to all suffering people in a gesture of solidarity” (25).
Growing in Faith, Hope, and Love – A Journey
Chris Lowney writes in Pope Francis: Why He Leads the Way He Leads,
In a June 2013 audience with thousands of grammar and high school students, Pope Francis “went off-script.” One of the kids in the audience had asked a question, informing the pope that he had difficulty, that “doubts come to me…I wanted to ask you for a few words to help me in my growth” (138).
Pope Francis answered the student (quoted in part):
“Walking is an art: if we are always in a hurry we tire and cannot reach our destination, the destination of our journey. Yet if we stop and do not move, we also fail to reach our destination…Moreover, the way is often hard-going, it is not easy. I want to stay faithful to this journey, but it is not easy; listen: there is darkness, there are days of darkness, days of failure, and some days of falling…someone falls, falls. Yet always keep this in your thoughts: do not be afraid of failure, do not be afraid of falling…But also: it is terrible to walk alone, terrible and tedious. Walking in community, with friends, with those who love us: this helps us, it helps us to arrive precisely at the destination where we must arrive” (139).
We need to begin to walk with each other and avoid “unseemly words” as St. Francis de Sales wrote in Introduction to the Devout Life:
“One of the most evil dispositions possible is that which satirizes and turns everything to ridicule. God abhors this device, and has sometimes punished it in marked manner. Nothing is so opposed to Charity, much more a devout spirit, as contempt and depreciation of one’s neighbor, and where satire and ridicule exist contempt must be” (150).
He distinguishes between the good humored mirth and “lighthearted talk” which is understood in the “trifling occurrences which human imperfections afford.” His caution is against contempt for ourselves and others, when we fail to “make good and useful conversation” and that we should be rather “like a hive of bees gathering to make honey” rather than like a “wasp’s nest, feeding on corruption” (150).
Goodwill – Surrendering to God’s Goodness, a Pathway to Peace
Father Jacques Philippe writes in Searching for and Maintaining Interior Peace, that it is goodwill, the “habitual disposition of heart”, which “permits the grace of God to carry us”, so as to embrace our human imperfection in the light of the Cross, if we detach ourselves from all that is not God, surrendering ourselves to God’s goodness. Fr. Philippe writes about an event in the life of St. Therese of the Child Jesus who reminded her sister, Celine, of the importance of goodwill:
“Have you read what is reported regarding the life of Father Surin? He was performing an exorcism and the demons said to him: ‘We are able to surmount all difficulties; there is only this bloody dog of goodwill, which we are never able to deal with!’ Well, if you don’t have virtue, you have a ‘bloody little dog,’ which will save you from all perils; console yourself, it will lead you to paradise! Ah! Which is the heart that would not wish to possess virtue!”
The ‘bloody little dog’ imagery is a strong one, but one of a fighter—goodwill that refuses to give in or give up to despair or to hatred, nor does it equivocate or agitate hatred to manipulate—by God’s grace, it desires to say “yes” to God, in simple acts of goodwill. In evangelization, we have encouragement from Saint Seraphim of Sarov, who said (as Fr. Philippe noted at page 8), “Acquire interior peace and a multitude will find its salvation through you.”
Fr. Philippe identifies the difficulty in maintaining interior peace:
“Often, we cause ourselves to become agitated and disturbed by trying to resolve everything by ourselves, when it would be more efficacious to remain peacefully before the gaze of God and to allow Him to act and work in us with His wisdom and power, which are infinitely superior to ours. For thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel: By waiting and by calm you shall be saved; in quiet and in trust your strength lies, but you would have none of it (Isaiah 30:15)” (6).
We could begin to establish peace in our hearts, by walking in goodwill each day. It’s that simple; not easy, but simple. I share one of my favorite descriptions of what it means to be a Christian, as Pope Francis stated:
“Being Christian is not just obeying orders but means being in Christ, thinking like him, acting like him, loving like him; it means letting him take possession of our life and change it, transform it, and free it from the darkness of evil and sin.” (Pope Francis Speaks to Our Hearts, Words of Challenge and Hope, 165)
The ‘Heavenly Dew’ of Hope
Catholics are human beings with imperfections and weaknesses. The perfection we know is the Cross, and this gives us great hope. When sharing this hope with others, St. Francis de Sales advised to do so not affectedly, as though preaching, but,
“with a spirit of meekness, love, and humility; dropping honey from your lips…in devout and pious words, as you speak to one or another around, in your secret heart the while asking God to let this soft heavenly dew sink into their minds as they hearken” (148).
If we speak humble words from the bottom of our hearts, then they should carry the ‘heavenly dew’ which quenches souls that thirst—let your words be the cup you offer to those who thirst. You may drink from it yourself one day.
“Sacred Heart of Jesus, I trust in thee.”