The Hardened Heart

This week's reflection is written by
V. Rev. Michael S. Murray, OSFS

If you ask people the question, “What is the worst thing that can happen to the human heart?”, many folks will almost instinctively respond by answering, “When it breaks.”

However painful a broken heart may be, a heart capable of being broken is nonetheless a heart that is alive, capable of feeling any number of emotions. In the event, there is something much, much worse than a broken heart — that is, a hardened heart.

Today’s first reading from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah cites some characteristics or qualities frequently associated with a heart that has become hardened. These include:

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  • Not paying attention or heed

  • Being disobedient

  • Turning one’s back on God and others

  • Being stiff-necked (stubborn)

  • Incapable of listening

  • Incapable of answering

  • Being unfaithful

You get the picture.

As if to underscore the bad things that can happen when a heart becomes hardened, today’s Gospel illustrates a particularly toxic manifestation of hardening of the heart: refusing to acknowledge the power of God at work in the lives of others, refusing to acknowledge that God can choose to work in the lives of others that often confound – and contradict – worldly wisdom. Worse yet, a hardened heart may attempt to discredit the good by accusing it of being evil.

As powerful as Jesus was, even he was powerless in the face of others’ hard-heartedness: among some people, we are told that Jesus was incapable of performing any miracles in the face of their stubbornness!

Lent provides us with opportunities to do all kinds of interior work. One such exercise could be to determine if there are any ways that our hearts may have become hardened over time. If so, what might be the root causes for that hardening? How might we reverse that process and keep our hearts as they were designed to be?

In the meantime, if today you hear God’s voice (in whatever circumstances, events or relationships that may occur), harden not your heart!