11 May 2014

Have we been cut to the heart?

When they heard Saint Peter proclaim the message of salvation brought about through Jesus of Nazareth - namely, that "God raised him up, releasing him from the throes of death" and "has made him both Messiah and Lord" - "they were cut to the heart" (Acts 2:24, 36). At the mention of "this Jesus, whom you crucified," the crowd was cut to the heart (Acts 2:36).

Here in the city of Saint Francis, we have ever before us the brilliant life of a man who was also "cut to the heart" at the mention of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus the Christ.

After the Lord spoke to Francis through the Crucifix then in the church of San Damiano, "from then on," we are told, "he could never keep himself from weeping, even bewailing in a loud voice the passion of Christ which was always, as it were, before his mind" (Thomas of Celano, Second Life, 11).

What is more, Saint Francis "could never hear the love of God without a kind of transformation within himself. For immediately upon hearing the love of God, he would become excited, stirred, and inflamed, as though an inner chord of his heart had been plucked by the plectrum [a pick] of the outward voice of the speaker" (Thomas of Celano, Second Life, 196).

Saint Francis took to hear the message of Saint Peter: "For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that he should follow in his footsteps" (I Peter 2:21). Saint Francis knew that, just as Jesus had been "cut to the heart" out of love for him ("...but one soldier thrust his lance into his side, and immediately blood and water flowed out" [John 19:34]), so, too, should he, Francis, be "cut to the heart" out of love for Jesus.

Because he allowed himself to be vulnerable to God's love and yielded himself to it, he "handed himself over to the one who judges justly" , to him who reigns from the Cross (I Peter 2:23). As much as Francis was aware of his own sinfulness, he was equally - and maybe more so - aware of the immensity of the mercy of God revealed in Jesus Christ. Sinner though he was, Francis knew that through his merciful love, the Good Shepherd called him to enter into his pastures by entering into the gate of himself, by entering into the wounds by which his heart was cut, so that he might repose in verdant pastures there "to have life and have it more abundantly" (cf. John 10:9, 20:7 and Psalm 23:1; John 10:10).

In gratitude for so great and undeserved gift, Francis was profoundly moved at the mention of so great a love and shows us that we, too, should be "cut to the heart" when he hear of the salvation Christ has won for us. Too often, however, such is not the case.

When we hear someone speak of the love of God, of those words which so moved Saint Francis, what is our response? Are we moved to tears of sadness and joy, or are we instead filled with indifference and a desire to get away? If we begin to squirm uncomfortably when someone speaks of God's love, it is a clear sign that we have not yielded to his love and allowed ourselves to be cut to the heart, that we have not yet truly repented.

Too often we erect one wall or another - even a series of defenses - so as not to be cut to the heart out of love for Jesus. We do not want to be touched by his grace; we do not want to be moved by his love; we do not want to weep in gratitude for his mercy. We want to be strong, safe, and secure, but unless we lower our defenses and yield to him we will not recognize his voice and follow him (cf. John 10:4).

Today, then, let us read again the Gospel accounts of his Death and Resurrection, let us speak to one another of his love, and let us look upon a crucifix, the better to be cut to the heart. Let us pray with Saint Francis the words he spoke before the Crucifix at San Damiano:
Most high, glorious God,
enlighten the darkness of my mind,
and give me, Lord, a correct faith,
a certain hope,
a perfect charity, sense, and knowledge,
so that I may carry out your holy and true command.

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