March 21, 2021 – Fifth Sunday of Lent
Readings: Jeremiah 31:31-34 / Hebrews 5:7-9 / John 12:20-33
I will be delivering the following homily at St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis today:
Like many of you over the course of this year-long pandemic, Carol and I have found TV shows on Netflix or Amazon to binge-watch. One of our favorites has been The Amazing Race. We have been fans of the show since it started back in 2001. We enjoy traveling vicariously through the contestants, seeing many parts of the world we are unlikely ever to see in person.
If you are unfamiliar with the show: Ten to twelve teams of two race around various parts of the world. As they race, they must complete multiple challenges along the way. At the end of each leg of the race, the team arriving last at the designated check point is eliminated from the race, until just one team remains and wins the $1M prize.
There have been 32 Amazing Races over the last twenty years.
Several months ago, we started our binge-watching with Race #1 and have been watching them all in order. I believe we are currently watching Race #25.
I’m about to share something, but it needs to stay between us. I have, on multiple occasions while watching these shows, been known to cry. Again, this is between us.
You may ask, “What in the world do you cry about?”
It could be anything; I experience a wide range of emotions. It might be because a team was eliminated from the race and I knew from an earlier episode that the reason they were racing was because they had a special needs child and really needed the money.
It might be because a contestant gave everything he or she had during a challenge on the race, was unable to meet that challenge, and was left completely empty physically, mentally, and emotionally.
It is often because of the beauty I see in the faces of people from remote areas of the world, faces full of joy. I watch the contestants interact with the native people and see nothing but smiling faces and acceptance of one another.
The interesting thing is that I watched these same shows when they originally aired years ago and never once had I come close to crying. I’ve gotten soft.
As a matter of fact, when we sat down to watch an episode the other night, Carol reached over and placed a box of Kleenex next to me. Then, when I in fact did have an emotional moment during the show, she texted my daughters to tell them about it.
One of my daughters texted Carol back, saying “I love this new soft-hearted dad!”
That acknowledgment from my daughter, along with a passage from today’s first reading, leads me to an awareness that my heart has been transformed over the years.
We heard the following from the prophet Jeremiah: I will write it upon their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people. No longer will they need to teach their friends and relatives how to know the LORD.
I would like to break this brief passage into two parts. First part: I will write it upon their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people.
I love the image of God writing on our hearts. There is such a beautiful intimacy to it. There are so few people that have access to our hearts, that can get close enough to write on them.
I picture God forming us in His own image, and then writing “Be Mine” or “Friends Forever” on our hearts. God claimed us as His own when he wrote on our our hearts. They were soft and pliable at that point, easy to write on.
God’s intent was to continue writing on our hearts. Each time we turned to him in prayer, listened to his voice, participated in the Sacraments, or served another human being, he would write on our hearts, reclaiming us as his own.
We often use this Responsorial Psalm at Mass: “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”
I believe that happens to many of us over time – our hearts harden. They are no longer soft and pliable. Writing on them becomes increasingly more difficult.
The hardening of our hearts doesn’t happen overnight. Maybe we have a busy day, and something needs to be taken off our plate, so we cross prayer off of our “Things to Do” list. That happens again the next day, and again a few days later. Soon prayer becomes an if-I-have-time endeavor, no longer a priority. Our hearts slowly harden.
God can still write on them, but it has become more difficult.
So it goes with other acts of faith, other engagement with God. We want to listen to his voice, but other voices begin to drown him out – the loud voices of temptation and selfish desire. Reception of the Sacraments takes a back seat to self-interest. Service to others becomes something we used to do.
Our soft, pliable hearts continue to harden to a point that God is unable to write on them. Eventually, access to our hearts is cut off completely.
The good news is that the process is reversible! Softening of our hearts is possible. However, it takes recommitting to God and allowing him to reclaim us as his own.
That is what the Lenten season is about – renewing our commitment to God, reconnecting with him, giving him access to our hearts so he is able to write on them once again.
Certainly, this renewal of our relationship with God and the re-softening of our hearts is reason enough to grant him access. However, the second sentence of our scripture passage offers us added incentive.
We also heard in Jeremiah: No longer will they need to teach their friends and relatives how to know the LORD.
When we allow God to write on our hearts, we become sacramental. We become visible signs of God’s invisible grace. We are, in essence, walking billboards of our faith.
We don’t need to instruct our friends about the faith or teach them about God or prove his existence. They will know God by what they see in us. When we are claimed as God’s own, we are not only made in his image, but also become his hands and feet and heart out in the world. We are the face of God to everyone around us. What God is writing on our hearts is his story and we share that story by how we engage with the world.
We should use the remainder of the Lenten season to assess the make-up of our hearts. How pliable are they? Have we allowed them to harden over time?
Pray that we have enough faith, enough trust in God, to give him access to our hearts once again. We must allow him to write on our hearts and reclaim us as his own.
A softer heart may mean we’ll need a box of Kleenex by our side when we watch Amazing Race, but that’s OK. That simply means we are seeing the world through the eyes of our heart; we are seeing the world as God sees it.