I am in Cleveland, Ohio for a couple events. Yesterday I met with local members of the Ignatian Volunteer Corps. According to their mission statement, IVC "is a national community service organization of volunteers and for volunteers, and is affiliated with the Society of Jesus. IVC works to meet the most urgent needs of people who are poor through the experienced service of mature men and women--Ignatian Volunteers." While the Jesuit Volunteer Corps consists of young people who have recently graduated from college, IVC consists of people over 50 who, as they say in their brochure, share "their skills, talents, and life experiences with organizations that directly assist people who are poor, or address issues related to poverty." Their slogan is: "Your most important work may begin after you retire." There are 16 such groups scattered around the country.
Realizing that being active isn't enough, the IVC encourages its members to "grow deeper in Christian faith by reflecting and praying in the Ignatian tradition." This is what brought me to meet with the group in Cleveland. I led their "Winter's Day of Reflection," and the theme was "Thirsting for a More Compassionate Heart."
In my first talk I went through the three key words of the theme. "Compassion" is more than giving help; it involves a sharing and actual identification with the suffering of another. The "Heart" is more than a sentimental symbol that inundates card shops and candy stores every winter in preparation for Valentine's Day. In the Scriptures the heart symbolized the deepest center of a person; it is the place of wisdom. "Thirsting" describes our relationship with God. The Psalms often speak of the human person longing and thirsting for God. This is because we are made in God's image and likeness; we are made by Love Himself, and for love. We are made for union with God and nothing earthly can satisfy this thirst. As St. Augustine put it: "You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You."
Ultimately the "More Compassionate Heart" for which we are "Thirsting" is the Heart of Jesus. Only His love, symbolized in the Sacred Heart all on fire with love for humanity and for each individual, can fill the thirst with which we are created. As the love of this Heart fills us and our emptiness, it flows through us to others. Like the Jordan River which begins in the mountains of Syria and flows into the Sea of Galilee and then into the Dead Sea where it ends and stagnates, so the love of God must flow through us. When it does, we are fresh and beautiful like the Sea of Galilee. When love does not flow through us but when we grasp at it and try to possess it for ourselves, then we become like the Dead Sea.
How do we grow in union with this "Compassionate Heart" of Jesus? The Mass, with its two parts, gives us the answer.
The Liturgy of the Word puts us in touch with Jesus, the Living Word who speaks to us in the proclamation of the Gospel. The Church has traditionally taught a way of praying with the Gospel called "Lectio Divina." Employing this method, we prayerfully read the Gospel passage, noting which words or phrases strike us or move us. We ask ourselves, "what is God telling me through this passage?"
St. Ignatius Loyola took "Lection Divina" a step further by inviting the person praying to enter into the scene by means of the imagination. By becoming one of the characters in the scene, and imagining what the people are saying and doing, and even fantasizing our own involvement in the scene, we enter more deeply into the Gospel. Jesus, the Living Word, speaks to us on a deeper level.
But we can go even deeper. We can try to imagine what was going on in the mind and heart of Jesus. What was He thinking and feeling? What was He experiencing in His interior? How was He being moved? In this way we can begin to enter more deeply into Jesus' Heart and take on His attitudes and values, His thoughts and feelings. We can feel, with Him, the compassion He felt for all the crowds and individuals who came to Him. Our own hearts can become more compassionate, like the Heart of Jesus. In the words of the U-2 song, our "Two Hearts Beat as One."
That's the Liturgy of the Word, entering more deeply into the Heart of Jesus by praying with His thoughts and feelings as they come to us through the Gospel. But what about the second part of Mass, the Liturgy of the Eucharist?
This is where our "Thirsting for a More Compassionate Heart" is really satisfied. We believe that Jesus is truly present, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, in the Eucharist. When we receive Holy Communion we receive Him. He unites Himself to us, even giving us His Heart to transform our hearts. In the Eucharist the great prophecy of Ezekiel is fulfilled: "I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts" (36: 26). The Heart of Jesus, present in the Holy Eucharist, transforms our hearts, making them more and more like His own.
In this way our hearts become more compassionate. We don't just feel sorry for others, but we are willing, as Jesus did, to share their burdens and sufferings with them.
That's a summary of the two talks I gave and our Day of Reflection ended with the celebration of the Mass on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. This was a good reminder for us that "conversion" is not a once-and-for-all event. Conversion is ongoing. Though Paul had a life-changing encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, this conversion didn't make him perfect. He still struggled, as evidenced in his Letter to the Romans, Chapter 7: "What I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate. ... The willing is ready at hand, but the doing the good is not. For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want. ... Miserable one that I am! Who will deliever me...? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord." The transformation of our hearts isn't complete. We are still on the way and, one day at a time, Jesus who is present in Word and Sacrament is changing us.
Tonight I will be speaking at Gesu, the Jesuit parish next to John Carroll University. As part of their Adult Enrichment program, I'll be saying more about the Sacred Heart of Jesus.