In the Living Heart of God

03-21-2021Pastoral ReflectionsRev. Brian F. Manning

We often have “church or religion words” that we do not use in ordinary everyday life. Church leadership tends to think that everyone knows them and their meaning, but in fact specialty words are specialty words and are not normally comprehended words or concepts. For ex- ample, the church leadership thinks that every Catholic should understand the issue of Divine Presence according to scholastic medieval philosophy. People do not. Communication needs to be clear and comprehensible and oftentimes church concepts and language are not. This is very similar to the world of computers and software and in particular the people who build, run, and maintain all this arcane and distinctive machinery and computer code. The computer world speaks about concepts with a language that most people do not really understand, but the leaders in technology expect us to comprehend. Just try and use an instruction manual! Or worse: the help question on a computer screen!

Our special word, which is thematic in today’s readings, is covenant. For us, it is a legal word used by attorneys and not by us in our general lives. However, this is an important concept and word for us to understand in terms of ourselves and our God. Simply put, when you make a covenant with another, you are making a promise and commitment that cannot be broken with- out serious consequences. We have a covenant with our God. In fact, our God established the covenant with us. God knew exactly what it entailed: God and humanity were bound in an un- breakable relationship, a relationship so strong it would outlast even death itself.

In our first reading, we learn that Jeremiah, who had seen the fall of Jerusalem, now predicts its rise and the reestablishment of God’s people. In fact, he says those Israelites in exile will return home, for the uprooted will be replanted. Jeremiah tells us God will make a new covenant written not on tablets of stone, but on hearts of flesh. The will of God will not be something im- posed from without, but something discovered from within. This covenant is different because it has the dimension of being universal because this covenant is not just for the “Chosen People.” Everyone will be able to join in the covenant from the least to the greatest. This agreement will have as its foundation the God of faithfulness, not human whim or desire. This God of the covenant will always forget and forgive the sins and failings of God’s people. This covenant is ours if we open our hearts to it.

The letter to the Hebrews tells us how to open our hearts and trust enough to obey our God. In fact, we claim our share of the new covenant by doing as Christ did, that is, by becoming obedient to God our Father, by dying and rising as Christ did. The passage from Hebrews calls us to be openhearted, to trust enough to walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.

The Gospel dramatically shows us the meaning of God’s new covenant and the necessary obedience it requires. Our gospel author John tells us that Jesus himself is the seed who is buried and dies in obedience to God’s will. John goes on to quote Jesus, “Whoever serves me must follow me … The Father will honor whoever serves me.” This means that the covenant established by Jesus’ death and resurrection is our covenant if we but follow Jesus in obedient service.

Our culture has taught us to push back against any notion of obedience as being repressive to ourselves. Yet, when we think and pray about the obedience of Jesus to the Father and how this brought about our salvation, perhaps we can see in this context that obedience for us is not repressive but liberating. By following the model and example of the obedience and sacrifice of Jesus, we too are raised up to freedom in our God. To be lifted up in our God requires that we bow down in obedience. This obedience is based upon our hearts being placed in the living heart of our God.