Heart Matters

by Susanna Mak
Fifth Sunday of Lent

Jeremiah 31:31-34

Hebrews 5:7-9

John 12:20-33

Near, far, wherever you are
I believe that the heart does go on
Once more you open the door
And you're here in my heart and my heart will go on and on.
(“My Heart Will Go On”, written by James Horner and Will Jennings)

Who can forget this haunting yet beautiful song of Celine Dion, lamenting lost love while acknowledging the strength of an unrelenting heart? Beyond its literal meaning as one of the most important organs, the heart is often metaphorized to represent love and the soul or core of our being in literature, music, or popular culture; not to mention that it is frequently commercialized, packaged, and marketed as a consumer goods to the masses. The symbolic value of the “heart” is indeed undeniable; most would recognize the cultural, emotional and spiritual significance of the “heart” over and above its physicality as a blood-pumping machine.

In this week’s readings, the image of the “heart” leads us into the depth and width of God’s mercy as well as the mystery of our salvation. Jeremiah writes that God’s law is written on “their hearts” (Jer 31:33); the Psalmist pleas for a “clean heart” (Ps 51:12); St. Paul describes how Jesus offers heart-wrenching “prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears” (Heb 5:7); and in John’s Gospel, Jesus admits that his “soul is troubled”, in anticipation of his suffering and ultimate sacrifice for us (Jn 12:27).

Just as Celine Dion croons, “Once more you open the door”, God opens His heart and beckons all of us to enter into a ”new covenant” despite our past unfaithfulness. Such is the scale of God’s boundless mercy. Unlike the previous one made with Moses when God leads the Israelites “by hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt”, this “new covenant” will not be broken by our stubbornness and slowness of heart. This covenant signifies a more intimate relationship between God and His peoples, “I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jer 31:33). Such is a grandiose claim - though the language used is that of a political alliance between the conqueror and the conquered nation - God has adopted the Israelites, and us, to be His very own; as one may proclaim the absolute steadfast love to one’s beloved. Just as God has “inscribed [you and I] on the palms of [His] hands”, the law is henceforth written on our hearts instead of stone tablets (Is 49:16). We shall know God in our heart and soul. God opens our heart by opening His to us first so that we may cultivate a genuine “desire to speak to the heart of Jesus and be heard” (Nouwen, Henri. Heart Speaks to Heart: Three Prayers to Jesus, 13). Nouwen recognizes through prayers that knowing about God is not the same as knowing God. The “new covenant” invites us to know God more intimately in our heart. Together with the Psalmist we pray for “a clean heart” and “a new and right spirit” so that we may know our loving God more intimately and be strengthened to freely lose our lives as we accompany Christ along His road to Calvary.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus opens his own heart as he exposes his vulnerability to his closest friends, “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say, - ‘Father, save me from this hour’?” Though Jesus’ heart is torn, he accepts his mission of love so that he may “draw all people” to himself (Jn 12:27, 32). Even as Jesus admits his fear and pain, he encourages his followers, “do not let your heart be troubled” (Jn 14:1).

As our Lenten preparation approaches its conclusion, let us offer our brokenness to God; let us open our heart to the heart of Jesus in prayer:

My heart is little, fearful, and very timid. It will always be so. But you say, “Come to my heart. My heart is gentle and humble and very broken like yours. Do not be afraid. Come and let your heart find rest in mine and trust that all will be well.” I want to come, Jesus, and be with you. Here I am, Lord, take my heart and let it become a heart filled with your love.
(Nouwen, Henri. Heart Speaks to Heart: Three Prayers to Jesus, 56-57)