A week that's holy and a heart that's soft

It's the final stretch. The last mile of the marathon. The conclusion of this time of fasting, yearning, staying quiet. Holy Week is upon us. And, in all of my Lenten zeal, I want to somehow supercharge my Lenten resolutions, to make these days intense and hardcore, to reup my slackened devotions and come to a glorious end on Easter, triumphant and pleased. But if there's one thing I've learned these 40 days, it's that I often need to examine (and reexamine) my inclinations and tendencies, to put my enthusiasm in check.

What I really need? A soft heart.

"If I speak in human and angelic tongues," St. Paul writes to the Corinthians, "but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing." But do not have love. Nothing, nothing, nothing. My imagination swells at these tremendous prospects of holiness and glory, then St. Paul brings me down quickly to face my littleness. Yes, Emma. You are ambitious. But do you have love? Is your heart soft and generous, is it turned toward the other? Is it longing for your God, or captured by the world? My heart is fickle. How I want it to be fleshy, to be bursting with love. Not hardened by pride or the suffering of life, but malleable for its Maker.

I think of those who lived side by side with Jesus. Who ate and drank with Him, watched Him teach and preach and heal. Learned from Him how to pray. Shared life most intimately for three transforming years. And of the 12 of his apostles, just one was left by His side at the end. John, sweet John. My favorite by far. Whose softness of heart fastened him to Jesus. Who could not bear the thought of being apart from his dear Savior as He suffered and died, despite his fellow apostles' quick desertion. Judas had the hardest heart of all. Even Peter, with his triple denial, had a heart unwilling to be pierced out of vulnerable, heart-breaking, life-risking love in that moment. The hearts of those 11 had been hardened, however slightly, by fear and grief and consternation. The miracles they witnessed and truth they heard and intimacy they shared were not enough.

When I think of my heart that needs softening, I find comfort in these holy men's failure before me. But ultimately, I want to model my hero, John. I want to forget the risk of loving Jesus and neighbor and instead dare to encounter them. I want to receive Mary as my Mother into my home, to live as her daughter. I want to allow those seeds of sorrow inevitably sown by the result of sin to take root and grow, to find rich soil in my ready heart, to blossom into the joy that comes from Jesus.

This may be a week of moving mountains, of giving away possessions, even of handing my body over though mortification. But chances are, it will be a simple, quiet week, one of receptivity to a suffering Jesus. And, as long as my heart remains soft, as long as I have great love, I will gain everything. Everything, everything, everything.





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