Summary: St. Luke records that when Jesus began his ministry, he proclaimed that He was sent “to heal the brokenhearted, and proclaim deliverance to captives.”
Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost 2018
Healing of the Heart
When I was growing up in the fifties and early sixties, this Extraordinary Form Mass was everywhere the norm. So we heard this wonderful Gospel every year. But what is “dropsy”? Now we have the Internet and we can learn easily that dropsy is the ancient term for edema, the swelling of soft tissues due to the accumulation of excess water. That is not the real disease. There’s an underlying cause for the swelling. The person probably had edema due to congestive heart failure. He had a usually fatal heart disease.
In the OT and NT alike, the Lord identifies the real problem with human beings. It’s what the Scriptures call a “hardness of heart.” The Bible authors use the words “hard” and “heart” together an amazing seventy-two times. During the public ministry, Jesus encountered classes of His countrymen whose attitude troubles Him. He said “this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are heavy of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should perceive with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and turn for me to heal them.” He tells Jewish men that Moses allowed them to divorce their wives because of the hardness of their hearts, that it tramples on the union for life between husband and wife that is the divine gift to us. St. Mark’s Gospel records a similar incident when Jesus healed on the Sabbath, and he looks into Christ’s heart: Jesus “looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.” Immediately the Jewish leaders went out and took counsel on how to destroy Him. They demonstrated hard hearts by their hostility to their Savior. They had a sickness of the heart far worse than that of the man with dropsy.
Isaiah and the Psalmist both tell us what God wants to do with stubborn hearts. He wants to heal them, to make them like the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The prophet Ezekiel speaks for God when he says: “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances.” Now whenever Christ sets about healing a heart, He first needs it to be broken. Many of us have had a broken heart, when someone we love turned from that love. When we are attached to something that is a lesser good than God, we are unable to give ourselves to our God. Our heart belongs to some bad habit, or to our house or property or a person who draws us into sin. In His mercy, God does something to cause that attraction or relationship to end, and we grieve over it, even if it had been bad for us.
So we have a broken heart, but a broken heart can become one that is no longer hardened to the Truth, no more stubbornly resistant to Christ. St. Luke records that when Jesus began his ministry, he proclaimed that He was sent “to heal the brokenhearted, and proclaim deliverance to captives.” So though we may be captive to sin and hard of heart, by His mighty power He will break that unnatural attachment and touch our broken hearts with His healing. Only then can we be freed from our bad habit of sin, and empowered to grow in love for Christ and the people of God, and effective in drawing unbelievers to both.
Something else, very important to our union with God, also happens when our soften hearts begin to heal. It is expressed by St. Francis de Sales in his Treatise on the Love of God, and summarized on the coat of arms of Blessed John Henry Newman: cor ad cor loquitur. It means “heart speaks unto heart.”
St. Francis writes this important explanation: “Do you mark. . .how the silence of afflicted lovers speaks by the apple of their eye, and by tears? Truly the chief exercise in mystical theology is to speak to God and to hear God speak in the bottom of the heart; and because this discourse passes in most secret aspirations and inspirations, we term it a silent conversing. Eyes speak to eyes, and heart to heart, and none understand what passes save the sacred lovers who speak.” An anonymous Catholic, asked by St. John Mary Vianney what he did for hours on end as he knelt silently before the Blessed Sacrament, replied “I look at God, and He looks at me.” The strongest communication can be engaged in between lovers without a single sound being voiced or heard. “Heart speaks unto heart.”