Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time at Mississippi Abbey
Our opening prayer tells us that God dwells in hearts that are “just and true”. He dwells in hearts that are not just and true, also, but the just and true know it! To have a heart that is just and true we must allow God’s grace to fashion it.
God tells Jeremiah that having such a heart is the work of God, not self or other humans. How this heart is fashioned is described in the beatitudes. Our willingness to let this happen is our way of telling God, “I’ll leave the light on for ya’!”
Leaving the light on is a contrast to a dark, unwelcoming place. “Contrast” is, in my experience, how the beatitudes form the heart…and the result of it! The contrast, as God tells Jeremiah, comes from what the heart is set on. It used to be set on temporal things. The contrast shows a difference that is made by having God in one’s heart…and knowing it!
We all seek happiness and we can think of the heart as having four levels of happiness. The first is pleasure and possessions. We all have favorite foods, entertainment, and… stuff. They are not inherently bad; they just don’t last long. The second level (where we live daily) is reputation and achievement. Things happen and we respond. We get a sense of competence and of “fitting in” (or not) in the world. That doesn’t last long either. It requires frequent, or constant, maintenance.
If one lives exclusively at these levels, his criterion for importance is “Satisfaction.” But sometimes, as has been said, “I can’t get no satisfaction.” Satisfaction is a good thing…but it doesn’t last long. One feels cursed.
God tells Jeremiah that He made our hearts deeper than that. “Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose hope is in the Lord.” He lives from two deeper levels of happiness. The third level is Reverence: preferring others to self and seeking their welfare. It is self-forgetfulness or freedom from self and for others. It is freedom to keep the two Great Love Commandments. Its happiness-effect is long-term as anyone who has kept marital or monastic vows can testify. But being fallen people who are quite vulnerable to living for self-satisfaction, we find this hard to do. Reverence does not get its importance for us from personal satisfaction; indeed, we may have to inconvenience self for the good of another. Reverence is important in itself. The power to live for the important-in-itself comes from the fourth and deepest level: what we worship. What we reverence we prefer to self; what we worship we prefer to EVERYTHING. That is the ultimately important-in-itself! Hearts that live from here are “just and true.”
When we live from Levels one and two our hearts are experienced as formed by early life events and good or bad breaks. Our hope is in personal cleverness and being romanced by Lady Luck. Two things seem to be required to move to the deeper levels: a broken heart and a light left on; thus, the beatitudes.
When one has “wrung out” all that satisfaction offers they will experience poverty, disorientation, and a hunger for something more enduring. They will weep for the foolishness of a misplaced heart. They will be ready for God.
Like the prophets, they will join the People of God to return to Him in a community. There they may well experience contempt, exclusion, and insult precisely because of their experience of contrast. They will have experienced the contrast between a foolish heart set on temporal satisfactions; a heart broken by poverty, hunger, and weeping and one gifted by hope in God. They will have experiences that require them to seriously decide what matters most: self or God. In making that decision, repeatedly, they will be given a heart that is “just and true.” Such a heart is guided in its use of short-term satisfactions by rest in the eternal God-Who-is-love.
It’s enough to make you say, “Blessed are you…rejoice and leap for joy!”