February is National Heart Month. It is an intentional time – even beyond Valentine’s Day – to draw attention to the organ of our heart and all the relationships therein.
In the Gospel of Matthew reading we heard this past Wednesday at daily Mass (Matthew 7:14-23), Jesus is speaking to the crowd and the subject is the heart. He Wants them to know that nothing that enters from outside a person can defile them. Instead, he notes that it is what comes from within. He says: “From within the man, from his heart, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile.”
These words no doubt strike a nerve in the staunch followers of the Law who strictly enforced various food restrictions. The thought was that if a person ate some of these things it would make them evil. Jesus is trying to stretch their minds and hearts to see that it is bigger than that.
When I was a seminarian many years ago, I vividly remember my spiritual director saying that in all of us there is a capacity for good and for evil. It is hard to fathom – let alone admit – that there might be something bad in our hearts. What Jesus is really saying to the crowd is that it is not things that can be clean or dirty but rather persons.
Within this revolutionary statement by Jesus is an invitation for the crowd –and for that matter all of us – to pause and look within. It is almost as if Jesus is inviting us to a spiritual heart catheterization where we are asked to honestly look within our heart and identify any evil that might be present. Isn’t that what we do every time we examine our consciences? We honestly, humbly, and intentionally look at what we have done and what we have failed to do.
This invitation to behold our heart really puts a whole new spin on the images of the heart we see in this month. You see, it is not just the relationships and fingerprints of people on our hearts, but it is also those sinful realities mentioned by Jesus that can negatively impact our relationship with God and one another.
As we prepare to enter into Lent later this month, let us welcome Jesus into the depths of our hearts. May he remove anything that is evil or defiled and help us to go forth spiritually heart-healthy. Above all, may His Sacred Heart – with its many streams of love – be an inspiration for us to know that we are loved and that like Him we too can go forth and love one another as He has loved us.