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Father Muench Says...

Don’t become a hard-hearted Hannah!

Sept. 20, 2017

By Father William Muench
NCC columnist

Last week, I joined with some family and friends for a reunion of sorts in Vermont.  One day we decided to visit that quaint town of Weston.  Since I was alone, my sister-in-law, Mary Lee, decided to keep me company on the drive.

As we were talking, I noticed on the radio screen the title of a song – an old favorite of mine – so I just had to turn it up.  I don’t know if you have ever heard it “Hard Hearted Hannah, the Vamp of Savannah,” but it was too wonderful to miss.

Then, on the very next Sunday, I was surprised to see that the psalm response at Mass was, “If today you hear his word, harden not your heart.”  I decide to focus my homily on that quote as Jesus comes to our world to soften our hard hearts.  I did mention Hannah, also.  I found it interesting that one of the altar servers was a Hannah.

Like many song writers, the Scriptures use the heart as the image and center of love and concern.  At the Last Supper, Jesus promised his apostles that his Holy Spirit will come to them and to all of us to make an abode in our hearts.  I have heard holy persons mention that, in prayer, we should place in our hearts those we love and those we are remembering in our prayers.  This is truly a beautiful image – filling our hearts with our loved ones.

But what about a hard heart?  A hard heart is a heart that does not feel, in fact, cannot feel.  A hard heart finds love difficult, even impossible.  A hard heart is a closed heart; there is no room for those we love or are in need of our prayers.  A hard heart finds it difficult to respond to others.  The Holy Spirit cannot touch a hard heart.

I can guarantee you that I can recognize someone with a hard heart just by looking in their eyes, just by talking with them. I remember a person telling me that they had held a grudge against another, I think it was a sister or brother, for nearly ten years.  I was overwhelmed by their hard heart.

Yet, the Psalmist urges us to find the Lord – “If today you hear his word, harden not your heart.”

The lord Jesus came to this world of ours to soften our hearts.  Jesus wants us to discover the happiness and peace that comes only when we have an open and loving heart.  The one who will soften our hard heart is our Savior, Jesus.  Jesus suffered and died for us to help us discover the joy of a soft heart.  Jesus challenges us and leads us to make our hearts open and loving.

So, a soft, open heart – an open heart is a blessing, a gift from our God.  When our heart is open it is a loving heart, a heart that is sensitive to others, that can be touched by those in need.  It is open to others in care and concern.

An open heart brings us a certain peace to be deliriously happy. I know I find a wonderful happiness when I am with such a person, someone special who I know just radiates an open and loving heart. If things are not going so well on a particular day I know I can find a moment to soften my heart when I spend time with those who have that open and loving heart.

This is the real gift of the Holy Eucharist, that wonderful sacrament.  Receiving the Lord in the Eucharist is a magnificent moment when the Lord becomes one with me.  The Eucharist gives a certain sustenance not just to my body but also to my heart, transforming that heart.

We have a song that says “Lord, transform my heart of stone to a heart of flesh.”  When you are afflicted with a hard heart I urge you to find the Lord, especially in the Blessed Eucharist. Allow Jesus to soften your heart.

One more thing – this is always a daily challenge.  Each day we are challenged by the concerns of life and we can so easily become hard hearted.  Many is the morning I know well when I recognize that I am hard hearted.  The only solution is to find the Lord – in prayer or in the Blessed Eucharist – that Jesus may indeed soften our hard hearts.

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