[F]rom the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks” (Lk 6:45). This Sunday, Jesus points us straight to the heart where our true ‘self’ resides. “A good tree does not bear rotten fruit, nor does a rotten tree bear good fruit,” he explains (6:43). I trust that our readers are mostly good trees that bear good fruits. But if we look around carefully, chances are rotten trees are also all around us. How can we tell the bad from the good? It doesn’t matter who people are, where they are from, or what they did. (Excuse the pun, Back Street Boys!). What really matters, our Lord explains, is what comes out of their mouths (cf. Mt. 15:11). Words reveal one’s heart. When one speaks, the genie is out of the bottle!
The author of Sirach, this Sunday’s first reading, concurs: “The fruit of a tree shows the care it has had; so too does one’s speech disclose the bent of one’s mind” (Sir 27:6). When the heart is rightly ordered to God, it rejoices in His goodness and truth, and the mouth speaks accordingly. When it is not - when it sins (or ‘misses the mark’ in Hebrew) - what come out of the mouth are evil and deceit.
This is a frightening realization for someone like me who speaks often! Compounding my fear is the fact that I speak to help steer people to God. At least that is my goal. It’s a responsibility I do not take lightly. But deep inside am I a good tree or a rotten one? Is my influence good or bad? What do I really speak of? Goodness or evil? Truth or deceit? Do I speak for God’s glorification or, knowingly or unknowingly, for my own aggrandizement? These are critically important questions that I - or for that matter, anyone called by God to perform similar ministries - must be brutally honest with myself when I examine my heart. Like uninvited guests, personal iniquities - prejudice, vanity, pride, selfishness, jealousy, you name it - may creep up on me in my words just when they are least expected.
Since the mouth speaks “from the fullness of the heart,” the heart is the source of our problems. This is why we pray to God that He change our heart to make it ever true; and that like a mystical surgeon with a soft hand, He replace our heart of stone with a heart of flesh (Eze 11:19). Then and only then will our mouth speak God’s goodness and truth.
Can the human heart be changed? Hardly, if human effort is the only tool available at our disposal. But with the infusion of divine grace, which is overflowing in the house of the Lord, it will. “They that are planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God,” the psalmist reminds us in this Sunday’s psalm reading (Ps. 92:14). The Church is the house of the Lord. In her, we have all the tools we need for sanctification: the Word of God, the Sacraments, the liturgies. Most of all, we have the communion of saints in the Body of Christ. In fact, the communion of saints IS the Church (CCC 946). In this communion, our heart, from which our mouth speaks, is constantly and gradually undergoing transformation. Nourished by the riches of the Head of the Body, which is Christ, and strengthened by the communion of goods in the Body, we grow spiritually to become the best person that we can be (Eph 5:23, CCC 947). It doesn’t happen overnight but happen it will unless we harden our hearts and resist the transformational work of the Spirit.
The good news is that every one of us who has been baptized is already a member of this amazing communion. In the gospel, Jesus uses the vine and the branches to illustrate this powerful relationship. He is the vine; we are the branches. In this tight and reciprocal relationship, he wants us to “remain in me, as I remain in you… [for] apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5). It’s a relationship that gives us life – not just ‘life’ in its existential form, but the divine life in holiness and glory (John 10:10). Deprived of it, we will wither like branches detached from the vine.
Given the importance of this communion, we can understand why St. John the apostle sees it as the reason why he proclaims the gospel to his church community in Ephesus: “what we have seen and heard we proclaim now to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; for our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ” (1 Jn 1:3). In other words, to John, the objective of evangelization is not about imparting knowledge, as important as knowledge – “what we have seen and heard” - is. Rather, the objective of his proclamation is to bring people into a relationship, which is the fellowship or communion with the Father, the Son, and all Christians like him. Call it the Body of Christ, or the communion of saints, or, simply, the Church. It’s a relationship that all Christians must be assimilated into, especially through the Eucharist; a relationship made possible by the mystery of the Incarnation; a relationship in which humanity and divinity finally meet and become one. It is also the only relationship that can really change the human heart and does so radically. I, for one, can testify to that!