I love British mystery novels. It is my favorite form of relaxation – entering into the minds of Hercule Poirot, Sherlock Holmes, Inspector Dalgliesh, Inspector Gamache, to name of few, as they intricately solve the puzzles of who committed the crime. I think these books appeal to me because they mentally stimulate me, causing me to think, think, think about the complexity of solving these mysteries. They appeal to my head. And therein lies the difficulty.
I have always primarily lived in my head. I have loved constant learning (Yay, Adult Education!), going to school, thinking about deep questions, etc. But all of this head gymnastics has often undermined my heart.
In today’s Gospel reading Jesus blatantly asks Simon Peter “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter boldly responds, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Do you think that Simon Peter had this ready response because he read it in a book? Of course, I am being facetious. But the point is clarified by Jesus, who says, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.” Peter only was able to come to this powerful insight through the openness of his heart (yes, heart) to the mystery of the Father working in him.
How difficult the heart. Have you received insights from God through the openness of your heart? Allow me to tell you a story.
Twenty years ago, as part of my ministerial training, I had to be a hospital chaplain twice a week for seven months. I approached this assignment with fear and trepidation, thinking, “Can’t I just learn all of this stuff from a book?” I had a supervisor and a group of about eight fellow students that was formed for us to process our experiences. I entered the assignment with this attitude: I will help bring Christ to these poor, suffering patients. My supervisor and student group quickly worked to adjust my attitude to this: Through the openness of my heart I will encounter Christ who is already there in the patients’ rooms. Yeah, yeah, ok, I will accept this intellectually, let’s move on.
I visited many patients, but I formed a special relationship with an elderly gentleman who frequented the hospital because of his COPD. He was a former mechanical engineer who was intelligent, funny, very accepting of his illness and, in short, a delightful character. One time when I came to the hospital I discovered that he was in ICU in very serious condition. He couldn’t talk because of his large oxygen mask and his weakness. I stayed with him for hours, praying, singing to him and just being present. At one point I had this profound realization that Christ was in the bed, that Christ’s presence was suffused through the sunlight coming through the vertical blinds, that he was there in the smells and sounds of this ICU room, powerfully there with my seriously ill friend. My heart perceived His presence and I was able to say, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Yes, my friend died a day later, alone but not alone.
This deep experience helped me to realize that only through the eye of the heart can I experience the mysterious presence of Christ and realize just who He is.
Who do you say that Jesus is? No facile answers, please. Open your own heart and enter into our mysterious God who tells you the answer, either startlingly or quietly through whispers in the night.
Let’s get practical. Just how do we open our hearts? Here are a few suggestions that I have found to be helpful:
- Come to Mass at Holy Family, come to Mass, come to Mass. Our liturgy is not primarily a “head trip.” The teaching message from the pulpit is only one element that, in concert with the prayers, music, environment and, critically, reception of the Eucharist, chips away at the defenses built around our hearts. Worship here is stunning. How many times have I laughed or cried or sang too loudly or danced with the beat? How many times have I been inspired by a homily or struck by the beauty of prayer or deeply moved as I receive Holy Communion? Quite frankly, Mass here entices me to not ignore my head, but respect it while allowing my heart to swell. And swelling of the heart produces openness. Interesting, huh?
- Come to our Beloved Retreat offered from January 19 to 21, 2018 at Mundelein Retreat Center. Time spent in hearing others’ faith stories, in participating in meaningful rituals, in praying and having fun with others, in sharing the Eucharist together is time well spent. I walk away from that retreat with the conviction of how much Christ loves me and, astoundingly, through that love I can be more open to His presence.
- Become involved in our RCIA process as a sponsor or as someone who invites a person to be baptized or to complete his or her sacraments. I have worked at several parishes and have never encountered a more well-structured process led by an incredibly faith-filled team of people who know in their sinews who Jesus is.
God bless us and keep us.
Holy Family Associate Director of Adult Formation