Our story thus far: God created. It was good. Beauty in creation. Man created in His image. Sin enters the picture. Man falls. The world follows.
So what to do?
God became man. The Holy Trinity’s decision to redeem us through the Son.
Forgiveness through Jesus, if we’ll accept it. If we’ll let go of our baggage.
In one of my favorite movies, 1986’s The Mission, Robert Deniro is a Spanish slave trader named Mendoza, a man bursting with pride and bravado. When Mendoza suspects his brother of flirting with the woman he fancies as his own, he is outraged, murdering his brother when he catches the two together. Jeremy Irons is Father Gabriel, a young Jesuit priest who has been ministering to the very natives Deniro has grown wealthy trapping and selling, visits him in prison. Mendoza refuses to forgive himself and sees no reason to continue to live, seeking suicide. Fr. Gabriel is able to convince Mendoza to come to his mission high in the hills to begin a new life, but as his sentence for his crime he must carry the burdens of his own life: his armor, the very armor Mendoza wore to hunt the natives. Mendoza struggles with his burden as they ascend the steep hills and mountains of Brazil to get to the mission. At one point a young missionary, played by Liam Neeson, questions this absurd penance and asks Fr. Gabriel to cut the rope that binds the armor to Mendoza. Fr. Gabriel replies that he never told Mendoza to carry it this far, he has been doing it on his own. Only Mendoza will know when it’s time. Only Mendoza can forgive and relieve himself of his burden.
As they make the final climb, the natives greet them. But when they see their former persecutor with the group they react with derision. Mendoza, expecting and even wanting death for his unforgivable crimes, awaits their decision. Watch this clip to see what happens next.
Forgiveness. Redemption. Joy.
Forgiveness, whether deserved or not does come and is there if we accept it.
Prior to our first exercise we gathered in the chapel for morning prayer. The canticle we prayed aloud was from Ezekiel 36:24-28:
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.
I will put my spirit within you
and make you live by my statutes,
careful to observe my decrees.
The grace of our Ignatian exercise this morning was to receive joy, as we behold Almighty God become man for us. In Romans 8:2-6 I read the following:
For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.
I mentioned that during Mass on the first night at Broom Tree that the word heart had seemed to enter in and out of my mind several times during the opening Mass. For the past 36 hours that word has appeared or been implied in every exercise, every Scripture, every prayer and every meditation. And in that verse, Romans 8:6 it all came together for me, despite the word “heart” not appearing within it.
To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.
It was upon reading this verse while seated by the fireplace just outside the chapel that it all started to come together for me. I found myself gazing at a statue to the right of the fireplace of the Virgin Mary and her child Jesus. This is where the heart transplant I had prayed for that first night occurs. At this moment is where my heart of flesh is replaced with God’s heart of Spirit. This is what I prayed for.
To seek with my heart, for the mind will follow. I’ve always done it the other way around. I read and rationalized my way into the Catholic faith until my heart finally embraced it. But even then it held back, ever cautious. I have always been one to be rational to an extreme, to use with great pride my mind in exploring and explaining things.
The heart has always been there, but I’ve never turned it fully over to God. Instead I’ve preferred to keep it as my own, selfishly clinging to it, refusing to turn it over to God, and following it to places I should never have gone. Oh, the spirit would enter in now and then but it wasn’t long before my mind would take over and my actions would be the result of my mind’s lead, not my heart. I did this to protect myself, and others, because I didn’t trust my heart. I knew well the sin it was capable of, and what sin may dwell deep within. In this regard it remained as stone. I would never turn it over to God because I knew how full of sin and pride it was. I knew it was of no value or worth to him and that there was no way he’d be interested in it.
For whatever reason during this retreat He has asked for it anyway. I found I was finally ready to give it to Him. And when I did the baggage carried with me and by me all of these years was cut away by his scalpel and tumbled down into the rivers below…washed away.
Because God loved us…me…enough to send His only son. As we recite in the Nicene Creed at each Mass:
For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate
of the Virgin Mary,
and became man.
And so it was that on this day I learned of my devotion to His Sacred Heart, of which I will write about later. It had to happen, right? I did mention during my trip through Yankton to get here that I was born at Sacred Heart Hospital after all.
New heart. Same lame humor. That’s ok, God. I’ll take the heart. Thank you.
Joy? You bet.