Friday, June 28, 2019
Heart speaks to heart. The brothers will know that my favorite singer-songwriter is the late and much-lamented Leonard Cohen. Years ago, he wrote a song as he was parting from a friend called “Farewell, Marianne.” Much more recently, he heard of her impending death, and he sent her an email. Few knew at the time that Cohen himself was dying of cancer, and had only a short time to live. The email was read out to Marianne two days before she died. It read as follows:
Well, Marianne, it’s come to the time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine. And you know that I’ve always loved you for your beauty and your wisdom, but I don’t need to say anything more about that because you know all that. But now, I just want to wish you a very good journey. Goodbye old friend. Endless love, see you down the road.
When she had the email read out to her, an unconscious Marianne put out her hand when she heard the words,” If you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine.” It’s a moving story of heart speaking to heart in its own language.
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. A feast that speaks of love, tenderness, and mercy. Reflecting on the heart during the week, I wrote down some of the positive and negative understanding of the word. The positives: a soft heart, a gentle heart, a beating heart, a loving heart, a generous heart, a kind heart, a tender heart, a forgiving heart, a merciful heart, a dear heart, a renewed heart, new heart, a heart of flesh, a fresh heart. And the negatives: a hard heart, a frustrated heart, a bitter heart, and unforgiving heart, a broken heart, a divided heart, a heavy heart, a bad heart, a jealous heart, a heart of stone. Jesus has all the positives, and offers us a bridge, a bridge of conversion, from the negative to the positive.
So how is your heart? The fact that you are here shows that you have a good heart, but as well we all know, we have places to work on, to make our hearts more like the tender heart of Jesus.
Monastic life has a lot to say on the topic too. We learn that to make progress, we have to move from the mind to the heart. When we live in our heads, we see prayer as little more than speaking with God. Henri Nouwen once said that if the public prayer of North American churches aris anything to go by, then God would need to be busy attending seminars to understand them. The desert, the monastic way, proposes a different way, the prayer of the heart. Macarius the Great said the chief task of the athlete (the monk, the Christian) is to enter into his heart. Isaac the Syrian said, “Try to enter the treasure chamber that is within you, and then you will discover the treasure chamber of heaven.” No wonder so many people, going back to John Cassian, find meaning in the wordless prayer that is proposed recently by Thomas Keating and John Main. Today’s gospel is a true story of the heart. Jesus going after the lost sheep and sharing the love and the mercy of the Divine. A Sacred Heart. What is indicative that we are making progress are the simple words “rejoice with me.” If you feel a deep inner joy, then you need to radiate that to others. That is the sign that your heart is in the right place. Sisters and brothers, this is a perfect feast on which to begin our Monastic Institute. We are called together to live the next month in our hearts. Beating, loving, gentle, and merciful. Hearts of flesh. But we are not alone because that kind of heart reflects the sacred heart of Jesus. Heart truly speaks to heart.