The Heart of Ars
Homily for Thursday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time
For two days in a row, we have heard Jeremiah talk about a new covenant. As I mentioned yesterday, the old covenant was conditional. “If you will be my people, then I will be your God.” The reading for today puts a further emphasis on the new covenant by stating: “I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts…” The former covenant was carved into stone tablets. The new covenant will be written upon the hearts of God’s children.
Though our study of anatomy has shown us that the heart is simply an organ that keeps the blood flowing in our veins, metaphorically speaking, the heart is a symbol or the seat of love. When we speak of the love that Jesus has for us, we see it graphically in the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, often referred to as a furnace of love. For the people of the Middle East, the eyes and the ears were able to discern what every situation called for. That information was then considered by the heart which directed the hands and the feet to supply the needed action. When God tells the people through Jeremiah that the new covenant will be written on their hearts, the implication is that their hearts will then direct their actions and their speech in a way consistent with those who are in a covenant relationship with God.
Though this metaphor may be somewhat romantic, it is something that even in our time we can understand. While we know that the human brain or mind is the organ that discerns what we should do in any particular situation, the heart still stands as a symbol of love. Since love is the commandment that Jesus has given us through the Gospel, we can readily understand what God is asking of us.
Today we celebrate the memorial of St. John Vianney. Though we refer to him as the Curé of Ars, a small village in France, locally he was known as the Heart of Ars. He lived in a time when the Catholic faith was persecuted. He grew up in a devout family, and, though he struggled with his studies, he became a Catholic priest. Today he stands as the patron of all priests, both religious and secular. In designating him as this patron, Pope Benedict XVI held him up as a model of mercy and love. As we give thanks today for this heroic man, we pledge ourselves to the same mercy and love which he exhibited.