Calming the Heart

Calming the Heart

Fifth Sunday of Easter (A)  |  Fr Allan White speaks of the Word of God who teaches us and calms the human heart 

‘Do not let your hearts be troubled.’ In the gospels Jesus sometimes rebukes his disciples, often the complaints are to do with the cardiac problems from which they suffer.  Their hearts are blind, obdurate and closed, or they are sluggish and slow, or else they are full of darkness and weighed down by pleasure or sorrows. In our normal everyday life we tend to be rather cautious about our hearts.   We do not like to expose them to be probed by others, we keep them as well-guarded as we can. If somebody manages to get under the wire and find a place in our hearts it can sometimes be very inconvenient.   We often describe people in terms of their hearts; people can be cold-hearted, hard-hearted, warm-hearted, great-hearted or half-hearted.

In the scriptures the heart does not simply have biological or physiological significance, it has symbolic and metaphysical meaning.  For the Old Testament the heart is the innermost core of our being, it is the root of our existence, the place where we are most ourselves.  We are often careful about those to whom we choose to reveal the secrets of our heart.   We think of the heart lying behind the appearances of our life, it beats behind a façade.   In the First book of Samuel, we are told that ‘Man looks on appearances, but the Lord looks to the heart.’ (1 Sam 16,7)   It is the penetrating gaze of God that cuts through the sometimes deceitful defenses we erect around our heart, to uncover the secrets therein. Coming close to God is a risky business as Jeremiah discovered; he says to approach God is ‘to risk one’s heart’. (Jr 30,21)

God finds us by his word and leads us on the pilgrimage back to our own hearts, he finds our straying hearts by the pastoral search engine of his word and brings us back to true life in the Son. The Scriptures are often presented in the Tradition as a form of pedagogy.  A pedagogue in classical times was the slave who accompanied the boys to school, answering their questions, leading them by the hand, instructing them on the way.  St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that the Incarnation is a form of manuductio, a leading by the hand. God in Christ, the pedagogue, takes us by the hand in order to guide us along the way, which is himself.  What does Christ the pedagogue teach us?  It is himself as ‘the way, the truth and the life’.  As St Paul speaks of the Ephesians as ‘learning’ Christ (Eph. 4:30). We do not learn things, we do not learn a skill, we do not learn a discipline, but a person.  We learn that person in a unique way, not by absorbing something and making it part of ourselves, but by giving or surrendering something.  As the Book of Proverbs has it: ‘My son give me your heart and let your eyes delight in my ways.’ (Prov. 4:30)

There is deep within each one of us a desire to give our hearts; we believe that in that way we shall find true peace and fulfillment, but many are hampered by not knowing what it is they truly desire. Their pursuit of counterfeits leads to much disturbance and disappointment.  Jesus says, ‘do not let your hearts be troubled’.  The word John uses for ‘troubled’ appears elsewhere in the gospel in connection with the turbulence of water as in the disturbance at the pool of Bethesda. In the synoptic gospels it is connected with the storm on the sea and the disciples’ reaction to Jesus walking on the water. In order to learn the way of the Lord Jesus we have to let the turbulent waters of our own anxieties and concerns subside.  One of the Desert Fathers was teaching one of the apprentice monks about prayer and the surrender of the heart.  He took a bowl of water in which sand had settled. When he shook the bowl the sand was agitated, and the water became cloudy.  When he set it down and the water was still the sand sank to the bottom.  It did not disappear but was submerged in the calm. Not letting our hearts be troubled does not mean that our cares and anxieties disappear but that they are covered by the waters of calm confidence in Jesus our pedagogue.

Readings: Acts 6:1-7  |  1 Peter 2:4-9  |  John 14:1-12

Photograph by Fr Lawrence Lew OP of a painting in the Holy Family church in Mexico City.

Fr Allan White was formerly Prior Provincial of the English Province of the Order of Preachers. He is currently Principal of St Mary’s School, El Centro, California and priest in residence at St Mary’s Parish, El Centro.

Comments (1)

  • A Website Visitor

    Thank you fr Allen, this is exactly what I need to hear and respond to today.

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