Friday, August 12, 2016

A New Heart, A New Spirit (or Turn Back and Live!)

Cast away from you all the crimes you have committed, and make for yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. Why should you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies, says the Lord GOD. Return and live!  Ezekiel 18:31-32

“Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” After he placed his hands on them, he went away.  Matthew 19:14-15


Create in me a clean heart.
Create in me a clean heart.

Have mercy on me God in your compassion.
Remove my sin.  Wash away my guilt.
Create in me a clean heart.
Create in me a clean heart.

O purify my heart and teach me wisdom
Then I shall be whiter than the snow.
Create in me a clean heart.
Create in me a clean heart.

Oh give me back the joy of your salvation;
A willing spirit sustain in me.
Create in me a clean heart.
Create in me a clean heart.

Change.  Again?  Well, the message does not seem to have registered the first 21,177 times the daily readings delivered it. 

Jesus echoed John’s call to “Repent.  The Kingdom of God is at hand.”  John echoed the prophets.  Today’s message in the New Testament is not starkly different from the message of the law and the prophets from the Hebrew Bible. 

Jesus, though, reveals what the Lord seeks of us.  We do not have to change into something new, with some butterfly metamorphosis.  We are asked to change back into the innocent child-like lives from which we have sprouted…and from which we have turned away from in pursuit of other (not necessarily better) options.   

Jesus underscores that by telling the adults that the Kingdom belongs to “such as these [children].”  And when we think back to that Last Breakfast scene when Jesus is grilling fish on the banks of the banks of the Sea of Tiberias.  Jesus addresses the disciples in the boat as children. Jesus said to them, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?” (John 21:5a).  It took the passion, death, and resurrection of their friend Jesus to wipe their slate clean and become child-like again.  

There also emerges a message of personal responsibility. The people quoted in Ezekiel are complaining that they were being punished for their ancestors’ sins. The change Jesus makes is that we are judged according to our own deeds.  We will not pay the price for our parents. Our children will not suffer for our sins.  We will, however, reap what we sow.   

If we are to turn back and away from our current lives, Jesus wants us to go back to a more innocent time in life. We cannot turn back the clock but we can turn back our attitude.

Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB, reminds us of the same message by getting us to reflect upon the role of our heart in the world. If our hearts have been hardened by experience in the world, she urges us to allow ourselves to be softened.

We are to be people who see the globe through eyes softened by the gospel. We are to see change and challenge in life as God's voice in our ears. Benedictine spirituality goes into the heart in order to embrace the world. It forms us differently than the world forms us but it does not attempt to shape us independently of the real world around us.  

God’s voice is telling us to change.  Return to the Lord and to a time when we were more innocent.  More like the children who flock to the shepherd like…well, like sheep.  Living the Good News demands nothing less than a total change of the way we relate to life.

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