I’ve shared in the past about the lingering effects I experience of exposure to radical feminist thought – and by exposure I don’t mean I was a voracious reader of Naomi Wolf, and I certainly haven’t been keeping a page in my autograph album for Gloria Steinem (if I had one, it would probably be given over to long-haired rockers and footballers). No, by exposure I mean I came to maturity in the 90s. It was impossible to escape concepts such as “a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle” and the equal rights amendment. The message I seem to have absorbed more than any other is: I don’t need anyone else.
Not only is that an isolating code to live by, but I realize it has resulted in me erecting walls and keeping people at bay. I don’t think I’ve done it deliberately to keep people away, rather it has been a sad consequence. It was a protective instinct. If I had to look after myself, on my own, well then, back off and let me get on with it! Maybe you can relate?
There is something, too, to living in our time as a Christian that can encourage a certain defensive hardness of heart – a spiritual callus. We’re wary of being slimed, and weary of being maligned, so we toughen up a little in order to keep ourselves safe.
But can I be a good Christian with those walls intact? Can I share God’s love when I am hard of heart? Am I able to share my gifts if I keep myself removed from others?
As I thought about this, I knew each answer was a definite ‘no’ but could find no solution. I’ve tried being softer, but how do you ‘be softer’? I’ve practiced asking for and accepting help over the years with varying degrees of success. Different initiatives I’ve adopted have addressed aspects of my disordered independence, but none have healed my hardened heart.
Then a few weeks ago, as if in answer to my question, a homily that started out as being about one thing turned out to be about my thing. Isn’t it wonderful what God will do in order to speak to us? I wonder if the congregation that day was aware they were hearing a message meant for me?
Here’s what Father said:
Angels take part in all our good works. But not in our bad ones – we are capable of them all on our own! Likewise we are able to harden our hearts all on our own, but need help to soften it.
One of the greatest, most liberating promises God makes to us is this: “I will take away your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”
But how? What can we do to be rid of that heart of stone? Father’s suggestions were these:
Best remedy is to think on the Passion of Jesus – often.
Slowly read the Passion narratives.
Read Isaiah, the suffering servant.
Pray the 15 passion prayers of St. Bridget of Sweden.
Meditate with the Sorrowful mysteries
Look lovingly on a crucifix (as told to St. Gertrude the Great)
Is hardness of heart really a big deal? Isn’t it, maybe, a good thing to be a little tough? Might there be some validity to the notion of protecting ourselves? Here’s what Father said about that:
Being hard of heart is sometimes a symptom of western life. The danger of it, though, and the reason we should monitor our condition regularly, is the condition can impede our ability to hear God, it muffles His voice in our ears, and confuses our priorities.
“Oh that today you would listen to His voice, harden not your heart” If we do harden our hearts, we are not able to hear God.
These remedies are still new enough to me that I don’t know yet what their impact will be on my life. I thought at first it was a little odd to prescribe the sufferings of Christ in order to combat hard heartedness, but it is making more sense to me now. I think humility, being aware of my own frailness, and facing the magnitude of the gift that Christ has given me in His own death is allowing for growth in meekness, surrendering control, accepting my littleness – all of which will certainly encourage a relaxing of the guard on that wall around my heart.
There has been a good effect to Father’s advice. This year, for the first time ever, I looked forward to the feast day of St. Therese of Lisieux and felt real affection for her. Perhaps it was my own softening heart that was finally able to appreciate her childlike openness? I look forward to seeing other changes as time goes on.