Today’s first reading can aptly be described as a warning to periodically check the condition of our hearts lest, in ways we are scarcely aware, they turn us away from what is true, holy, and good. The passage from Hebrews speaks of “hardened” hearts, “erring” hearts, and “evil and unfaithful” hearts, suggesting that though it may be easy to develop each of these pathologies, such conditions of heart are fatal to our relationship with God and one another.
A hardened heart is a dangerous spiritual predicament because when our hearts are hardened nothing can touch them, nothing can enter into them; hardened hearts are closed to God’s spirit and life, closed to any possibility of healing and hope. Our hearts harden over time—sometimes so gradually that we have no idea what is happening to us—when we shut our lives to others, when we settle into self-serving routines that suck life from us and those around us, or when we become so comfortable with who we are and what we believe that we are no longer willing to grow and to change. With erring hearts we slip slowly away from God by letting other things (other persons, our own pleasures, money and possessions) take the place of God. With erring hearts it is not that we suddenly begin to love the wrong things, but that we love them in the wrong ways, giving lesser goods far more attention than they deserve. And with evil and unfaithful hearts we act as if we ourselves are gods, doing whatever we want and getting whatever we want no matter how much hurt and harm it brings to others.
And so maybe it is time for a heart checkup. Like people who are sick long before they receive a proper diagnosis, we need to periodically check the condition of our hearts to be sure we are not denying ourselves the love, healing, mercy, and wholeness that God wants to give us and that we need to truly live.
Paul J. Wadell is Professor of Theology and Religious Studies at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin, and a member of the extended Passionist Family.