Greetings and blessings, dear friends who read and pray with me. If you are at all like me, you may find your soul not entirely free yet – for God is still at work in us – but perhaps He will permit us to move on to this next chapter nonetheless.
And this next chapter is a full and beautiful one. Whenever we begin talk of “the heart”, I am immediately drawn. Something in my core wants to know more of itself and its longings. Fr. Matta tells us that “the heart is the source of all the potentiality of the spiritual and physical life” – for both good and evil. The heart expresses “the final condition of man” and our words confess “what kind of faith is in the heart”. It seems that here, in my heart, it becomes evident who I truly am.
But what Fr. Matta says next is most interesting: that it is possible for “two kinds of heart to exist side by side in man, one expressing his true nature and another falsifying his thoughts, words and deeds. In the latter case, a person talks of good deeds and actually does them to give people the false impression that he is virtuous, while in fact he is wicked.” This other heart, he says, is the work of the devil who wants to keep secret the evil intent, thereby safeguarding it.
- Let us consider these ideas. First, the heart. When I think of my heart (i.e. to love God with all my heart), what does that mean to me? Our culture tends to associate heart and emotion…how is our spiritual meaning similar or different?
- It is perhaps easier to see the second kind of heart in others than it is to see it in myself, something akin to what we call hypocrisy. However, let us take some time to reflect on how this may happen in us. I may not want to think of myself as “in fact…wicked”, but it is not so difficult to see how I might do good deeds to create a favorable impression or gain admiration. How might this lead me away from God? How and why might the evil one keep this intent “secret” from me?
- Can you think of other examples of this second kind of heart in our daily lives? If our more evil intents are kept secret even from us, how might we know that they are there so as to unveil them? (Do we feel any reluctance to uncover them?)
Next, we are instructed about what God wants to do about this situation – to completely remove the evil heart and create a new one. “Thus, when man’s heart is transformed into a new heart, man of necessity is turned into another man.” Fr. Matta notes the needed actions for this to happen and their Biblical references: contrition in our hearts, a complete cleansing from within and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. He notes that this was an exceptional event in the Old Testament. However, in the New Testament, “the act became universal, not merely to create a new heart, but for creating a whole new man”. And these actions are the core of our sacrament of Baptism. Yet Fr. Matta does not suggest that this cleansing and purging are a single event in our lives.
- Those of us baptized as infants may not find it so easy to identify Baptism with this process. We have not “turned” from anything at the beginning of our lives. How might we move into deeper understanding of Baptism now, if it has been many years since we received the sacrament?
- I had never thought before about being made “a new person” as an exceptional event in Old Testament times but I see now how it is so. I may want to reflect on how great a gift it is to have this offered to me, someone of no significance among the people of God…
Finally, Fr. Matta makes an important distinction between the work that we do with faith and repentance and our actual acceptance of the new heart given to us by the Holy Spirit. We cannot create a pure heart for ourselves or make ourselves a new person. We must allow God to do that for us – yet our work in the process is vital. With the power of our new nature, “we become able to face the truth, letting it live within us and penetrate to the very roots of our being”. We become able to put off the evil of our old selves and embrace the divine nature in Whose image we are made.
Fr. Matta uses a number of images for the heart. Citing St. Macarius, he describes the heart as the captain who rules and directs, a chariot under one driver, a palace where Christ comes to retire. He describes the heart as the “holy of holies” which “makes it fit for the indwelling of God”.
- It is not so easy for me to accept the new heart – because, with it, I will become able to face the truth. Why is it so hard for me to face the truth – to see that I do have this “second heart” and that I am “in fact…wicked”? Yet if I do not face it, can I truly repent?
- If I am being deceived, how can I know whether I have truly uncovered the evil in myself to repent of it? (Of course, I cannot know – which helps me remain humble before God, totally unworthy to receive the new heart, yet completely in need of what only He can give me.)
- We may want to use St. Marcarius’ images (or our own) for further prayer and reflection on the heart, so as not to be drawn into worldly notions but rather to understand more deeply the new heart for which the Lord Jesus died to give us.
I’m sure there is much more here than the few points I have touched upon. You are most welcome to add your reflections in a comment.
“A clean heart create for me, God; renew within me a steadfast spirit.” (Psalm 51:12)