What are the desires of my heart? What do I treasure?
These questions ask more of us than to say what we prefer, want, or need at an immediate level. They ask us to ponder the things we want to want, the desires we wish we had, the treasure we may not value as we should.
When I ask myself what it is that my heart desires, I am always met with “things that show my weakness,” the things Paul chose to boast of in his enigmatic letter to the Corinthians. Paul’s inverted boasting echoes in the psalm where the Lord hears the lowly and the poor. When I look at my life and take stock of what it is that I treasure, I encounter my spiritual lowliness and poverty. I wonder if I am the just one whom the Lord rescues from distress. Do I seek justice to the point of distress? I doubt it. I know I am not Paul. The questions keep coming: Why do the just suffer distress? Why does justice require consolation?
These questions all emerge from pondering what I desire and value. In the Gospel, Jesus unites them, teaching that “where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” In other words, the answer to the question of what I value or treasure reveals where my heart is. This, in turn, reveals my desire for deeper conversion, a conversion of my own desire.
The sacred, pure heart of Jesus. The immaculate, undefiled heart of Mary. How does such a heart come to be? Clearly the initiative is God’s, who prepares the human heart to be his dwelling place. At the same time, the human heart must be receptive and cooperative with this work of God, open to the power of the Spirit at work within. Like Mary, who found favor with God.
Mary knew that a place must be readied, there must be room in her heart for God. It
must be rid of all clutter, the kinds of things that Jesus said rendered the heart defiled: evil thoughts, greed, malice, deceit, envy, arrogance, anger, and hatred. Such things are not of God. They leave no room in the heart for the Word of God to speak.
A pure heart treasures the Word and ponders it. As did Mary, as did Jesus. How else could they have recognized it as a word for their own lives? Mary, when visiting Elizabeth or when hearing the words Jesus spoke to her in today’s Gospel. Jesus, so often at prayer, finding help for his temptations and for direction in his ministry. A pure heart knows the power of the Word of God to reveal who we are and who we are to become. A pure heart knows the power of the Word of God to continually create anew.
Like mother. Like Son. So may the heart of each of us become.
Elisabeth, who was born in Paris, married Dr. Felix Leseur when she was twenty-two. While she was a devout Catholic, her husband was a determined atheist. Over time, as his convictions hardened, he became the editor of a militantly anti-Catholic newspaper. Yet his efforts to shake Elisabeth’s beliefs only strengthened her resolve to study and deepen her faith. Though these tensions in their marriage caused her bitter suffering, Elisabeth came to believe the salvation of her husband was her actual life’s mission.
When she confided to him the firm belief that he would one day become a priest, her husband ridiculed the notion. But two years later, as she was dying of breast cancer, he became increasingly impressed by her courage and equanimity, realizing that she drew this strength from her faith.
Elisabeth died on May 3, 1914. She had for years been corresponding with a wide array of spiritual seekers, who thronged to her funeral. Felix was overcome to discover a note in his wife’s spiritual diary in which she offered her sufferings and her life for his conversion. He went on to edit and publish her spiritual writings. In 1923 he was ordained as a Dominican priest. Her cause for canonization is in process.
“I know that no cry, no desire, no call proceeding from the depths of our soul is lost, but all go to God and through Him to show who moved us to pray. I know that only God performs the intimate transformation of a soul and that we can but point out to Him those we love, saying: ‘Lord make them live.’” —Servant of God Elisabeth Leseur
In our sickness we need a saviour, in our wanderings a guide, in our blindness someone to show us the light, in our thirst the fountain of living water which quenches forever the thirst of those who drink from it. We dead people need life, we sheep need a shepherd, we children need a teacher, the whole world needs Jesus!
If we would understand the profound wisdom of the most holy shepherd and teacher, the ruler of the universe and the Word of the Father, when using an allegory he calls himself the shepherd of the sheep, we can do so for he is also the teacher of little ones.
Speaking at some length through Ezekiel to the Jewish elders, he gives them a salutary example of true solicitude. I will bind up the injured, he says; I will heal the sick; I will bring back the strays and pasture them on my holy mountain [cf. Ezek 31:11–16]. These are the promises of the Good Shepherd. . . .
Such is our Teacher, both good and just. He said he had not come to be served but to serve, and so the gospel shows him tired out, he who laboured for our sake and promised to give his life as a ransom for many [Matt 20:28; Mark 10:45], a thing which, as he said, only the Good Shepherd will do.
How bountiful the giver who for our sake gives his most precious possession, his own life! He is a real benefactor and friend, who desired to be our brother when he might have been our Lord, and who in his goodness even went so far as to die for us!
My children are light sleepers, so when they fall asleep on me in the rocking chair, it can be a real challenge to get them into their crib without waking them up. Over time I’ve learned the delicate art of pressing them close during the transfer. That way, even if the chair and the floor (and my knees!) all creak in unison, the stirring child quickly softens back to sleep as soon as I gently tighten my embrace.
I’ve often found that God holds us with the same closeness during the difficult transitions of our lives. And unexpected
people often emerge to lead us through the darkness. We see this when Christ met Saul, held him close, and led him to Ananias. Previously fearful of Saul’s murderous threats, Ananias lays his hands upon him, heals him, feeds him, even watches as he takes his first wobbly steps as a newly baptized Christian.
Jesus invites us to draw even closer: Whoever eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood remains in me and I in him. Christ’s very life, lavishly given to us at each and every moment. This lavish love is the foundation of our communion, which we are called to share—always and without exception—with others (even those breathing murderous threats against us). This is the hard work of the Christian life. And it is the place of the graced encounter with God in Christ, who holds us, carries us, and embraces us, even though all we may see is darkness.
What does it mean to be identified with a city? Jesus is sometimes written off as a Nazarene, the “son of the carpenter,” whose family members are known to the townspeople of Nazareth. In contrast to Nazareth, Mary Magdalene’s hometown was a reason to respect her.
Magdala was not only a particular village but a whole commercial fishing district all along the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. It was an economic hub, the center of a thriving salted-fish export business involving Jewish fishermen and Roman shippers. The spare references in Luke 8:1-4 suggest that Mary of Magdala was known for her power to lead others, that she enjoyed economic autonomy and shared generously. If she’d been freed of seven demons, what an abundance of health, magnetism, freedom, and joyous energy must have struck everyone who met her!
And yet when Mary Magdalene met Jesus in the garden after his resurrection, she had every basis for disorientation and distraction. The Passover festival time had turned into a nightmare, got upended by the arrest and execution of her teacher and friend, and she didn’t know what to expect. Fear, helplessness, grief, confusion, disbelief. But re-centered by her personal encounter with Jesus, she found her emotional grounding and didn’t lose her voice. She went back to the male disciples and reported what she saw and heard.
She didn’t hold back. She spoke with energy and passion. That’s why we love her and remember her. May the force of both her financial generosity and truth-telling inspire us during these Easter days.
Carved into the soft wax of each Paschal candle is a message about the holiness of time. We don’t think of time as a thing to be consecrated like water, oil, or bread. Nor is time tangible, like the hallowed space of a church or the grounds of a cemetery. How can time, a reality we can’t hold in our hands or visibly perceive, be made holy?
Yet as the presider at the Easter Vigil cuts the numerals of a new year into the Easter candle’s surface, he declares: “Christ yesterday and today, the beginning and the end . . .” We’re grateful that Christ is the healer of yesterday, with its broken dreams and misplaced allegiances, words uttered in haste that can’t be unspoken. We affirm that Christ is the light of today, with so many fresh choices to be discerned. And, thank God, Christ is present at the start and end of every journey, so missteps can be retraced and the true path regained.
All time belongs to Christ, the priest proclaims, carving numbers into wax. What a stirring idea! We know too well what can happen in the space of a year or a moment. Sickness can overtake the world. Falling in love may comically rearrange our priorities. Disappointment or loss drops us down a well of despair. An act of sudden kindness restores hope.
Time is an ocean of possibility. We must seek its consecration, making the future a holy destination to which we can all travel together.
Thea Bowman was one of the great treasures of the American Catholic Church. Ablaze with the spirit of love, the memory of struggle, and a faith in God’s promises, she impressed her audiences not just with her message but with the nobility of her spirit.
Born in rural Mississippi, she converted to Catholicism while attending parochial school. Later, as a Franciscan nun, she found herself the only African American in a White religious order. But she had no desire to “blend in.” She believed her identity as a Black woman entailed a special vocation. She believed the Church must make room for the spiritual traditions of African Americans, including the memory of slavery, but also the spirit of hope and resistance reflected in the spirituals, the importance of family, community, celebration, and remembrance.
She was a spellbinding speaker who preached the Gospel to audiences across the land, including the U.S. bishops. After being diagnosed with incurable cancer she bore a different kind of witness. She continued to travel and speak, even from her wheelchair. To her other gifts to the Church she added the witness of her courage and trust in God. “I don’t make sense of suffering. I try to make sense of life,” she said. “I try each day to see God’s will.” She died on March 30, 1990, at the age of fifty-two. Her cause for canonization is in process.
“What does it mean to be black and Catholic? It means that I come to my church fully functioning. I bring myself, my black self, all that I am, all that I have, all that I hope to become.”