"I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts." Ezekiel 36:26
The other day, I watched a "good news" story on television. A family had lost everything, jobs, savings and even health. They were struggling to make ends meet while taking care of a cancer survivor. Their home was in need of major remodeling. Some friends got some businesses to give their home a major "make over." The family home got a new paint job, new windows, new kitchen and appliances, new everything. And the family spokesperson said through all the tears, it was time to make a new beginning.
If new beginnings were only that easy, then many more people would be able to make new beginnings. Changing appearances would be all it would take to begin life anew. Many people have changed their appearances. They change hair styles, grow beards, go on diets, have plastic surgery, buy new clothes to signal a new beginning. But soon they find themselves doing the same old things, behaving badly with others, cheating when they can get away with it, hiding addictions thinking that they are fooling everyone around them and feeling just as terrible, just as empty and just as desolate as before. Make-overs do not begin from the outside. They begin from the inside, from our heart and from our spirit.
The readings for today’s Mass are all about God’s invitation to be in full communion with God and with God’s people. God wants us to be part of God’s family and celebration. God’s invitation has always been to come and enjoy the good things in life, that is, to belong fully to God. In the first reading, taken from the prophet Ezekiel, God is calling a sinful people who have turned their backs to a God who has given them everything they needed for a good life to begin anew. And Ezekiel tells them exactly where they need to start: with a new heart and a new spirit, putting away their stony hearts and replacing them with natural hearts that love, forgive, have compassion, hearts and spirits that truly belong to God: "You shall be my people and I will be your God." It all starts from within. We can change the outside all we want, but if we do not change our hearts and spirits, then very little changes.
The Gospel reminds us that God’s invitation is just that, a freely given invitation to join God in the greatest celebration of all time. For sinful reasons, we refuse, we refuse to attend the celebration, we refuse to accept the messengers who invite us to the celebration, and we even kill God’s messengers, believing that God will not do anything to us. But God will not be denied. God continues to invite, continues to bring in the outcasts, the "good and bad alike." We need, however, to have a change of heart. We need a wedding garment to get into the celebration and to belong to the Kingdom of God. We need God. We need to say "yes" to God’s invitation. We need to pray for that grace. It is not an easy prayer to pray. But God will help us.
As the Alleluia verse says: "If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts!"
Fr. Clemente Barron, C.P. is a member of the General Council of the Passionist Congregation and is stationed in Rome.