Spirituality of the Readings

The Human Heart

The human heart has its own commandments.

In the First Reading, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” and, “Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.”

Agreed, but what does God’s holiness look like?

The Responsorial Psalm puts it this way:

The Lord is kind and merciful. He pardons all your iniquities,
heals all your ills. He redeems your life from
destruction, crowns you with kindness and compassion.

A most comforting portrayal of God. We too can love this way, if we work hard enough.

Can’t we?

In the Gospel, Jesus gives his own guidelines. He quotes the old laws, as he did last week, and then he opens them up, giving us a view of their insides.

• Old rule: “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” New rule: offer no resistance to one who is evil. … If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand over your cloak as well. … Do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.”

Difficult, difficult. When I lived in California, some beggars admitted frankly that they had a quota to make before they could go home. And sometimes a large, expensive car would come pick them up at five or six pm! Surely this was a conspiracy. Should I have pealed off my coat to give to a syndicate?

Maybe so. They were actually poor. I should not turn my back on the poor, should I? I had to crown them with kindness and compassion. Yet wouldn’t I be a patsy if I did?


• Old rule: “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” New rule: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” The heavenly Father loves and rewards both the bad and the good, the just and the unjust. “Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Really, isn’t that simply absurd? We are tiny ants compared to God, crawlers on boulders that flew loose in the big bang. How are we supposed to be as perfect as God? Jesus had better give us some very deep, compensating insights about the human heart and the laws that govern it!

And so he does. In the Second Reading he says, “You are the temple of God, and the Spirit of God dwells in you.” My interpretation: God builds the human heart with a hole in it, an openness that can let others in if we don’t block them out with selfishness. Especially when we let ourselves get used to it. We can even let God’s own self in! He will stretch our arms out to others so that we will truly give to them out of love.

Alright, then should I give to a “beggar,” employed by a syndicate? Probably not. It is not for his good. Should a wife stay at home where her husband beats her up at regular intervals? No is the answer, because this is not a “giving, out of love,” it is trying to cuddle a rabid dog. A judgment has to be made in each case, but in general if the care is ethically and/or physically harmful to the giver or the receiver, it does not flow from God.

Real love is what we are after, the kind Jesus describes and which God pulls us toward.

John Foley, SJ

Fr. John Foley, SJ is a composer and scholar at Saint Louis University.

**From Saint Louis University

Kristin Clauson