Homily for the 8th Sunday of the Year (C)

26 – 27 February 2022

Dear Friends, the readings invite us to think of the words we speak as revealing the condition of our heart: “A man’s words betray what he feels” says the author of the first reading (Eccl 27:7-8). Our Lord reinforced this view, saying: “A man’s words flow from what fills his heart” (Lk 6:45).

What can our words reveal about the condition of our heart? In answering, we might wish to acknowledge what seems to be a contradiction: the same mouth that praises God we use to curse those who hurt or annoy us; and the same mouth with which we excuse the faults of some, we speak only ill of others. This reveals to us that the human heart produces mixed fruit. It is, as the Lord said in another passage of the Scripture, weeds and wheat grow side by side (Mat 13:24-30).

The reason for the weeds and wheat is the sin of Adam and Eve: “Sin entered the world through one man” (Rom 5:12). Each of us shares the consequences of Adam’s sin which includes the weeds and wheat that reveal the damaged state of our heart: “I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out,” says St Paul (Rom 7:18).

Thanks be to God, this rule works the other way too. Just as what emerges from our heart reveals its damaged condition, so words taken upon our lips from the heart of Jesus can enter our heart to transform and heal it. This idea comes from the wisdom of St Benedict who, inspired by the Holy Spirit, taught that when we pray “the mind (and heart) must be in accord with the voice.” In other words, when we pray with words from the Scripture, and with the wisdom of the saints, we pray with words, not from our own heart, but from the heart of Jesus. These words can penetrate the heart and mind to transform and heal it. For example, the desire to be forgiven can easily be recognized with what is in our heart, whereas the obligation to forgive others their trespasses is not likely an idea that comes from within us. And yet these are the words we say when we pray as Our Lord taught us: “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

It is for this reason that when we pray, we need both spontaneous prayer – prayer that emerges from our heart; and we need learnt prayers – prayers from the heart of Jesus. The Our Father, the Rosary, litanies etc., are all prayers to take upon our lips and meditate upon in our heart and mind. To do this is to do as St Paul described taking place for the Corinthians in today’s second reading: “This perishable nature [must] put on imperishability, and…this mortal nature…put on immortality” (1 Cor 15:54).

As we prepare to enter into the penitential season of Lent on Wednesday, a season with an intense focus on prayer, fasting and almsgiving, let us have in mind what we have learnt today about prayer. In particular, it will be good to take up the habit of prayerfully reading the Scriptures, a practice encouraged by many saints, including St Philip Neri. The regular use of learnt prayers, such as the Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be, etc., is a valuable aid to the healing God desires takes place in our wounded hearts. Let us pray with the imperishable heart of Jesus, His Sacred Heart, from which He has redeemed us.