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  • Writer's pictureFr. Austin

How Do You Break a Hardened Heart?

Updated: Oct 31, 2019

Terrence Murphy was born in Tallenstown, Ireland (about 7 miles southwest of Dundalk), in 1800. He married Mary Hillard, a local girl, and they had 8 children. In the middle of the 19th century, the great famine had struck Ireland, and many poor Catholics in particular suffered and died. By 1860, the effects of the famine, as well as the strong anti-Catholic sentiments at home, forced Terrence and his family to emigrate to the United States. In the US, the Murphy’s encountered a wave of nativism - a cultural movement that was focused on “America for Americans” and a resistance to immigrants in general and particularly those who were Catholic. There was a hardness of heart that was driven by fear, hatred, and human sinfulness that made life difficult for many immigrants. The “welcome” that they had anticipated was not as warm as they had expected. Terrence and his family found a safer home in Baltimore, and his sons were able to find jobs with the B&O Railroad. 150 years later, here I am: Terrence’s great-great-great grandson.

In today’s Gospel, we encounter Jesus on the move - migrating, one could say - on His way to the holy city of Jerusalem. Jesus’ day was no more immune to prejudice than our own, and as He entered Samaria on His way south - specifically because of His purposed migration - He was overtly unwelcome. “They would not welcome him because the destination of his journey was Jerusalem.”This is outright religious persecution. They would not let Jesus Himself to enter their homes because He was culturally and religiously different from them. The disciples’ anger is certainly relatable; how would you feel if for no other reason than your origins and your dreams you were so rudely resisted? Jesus’ response, however, is one of forgiveness and letting go. Encountering their hardness of heart, He simply moved on His way, and the Samaritans missed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of hospitality and grace.

Recently, our news cycles have been filled with stories from our southern border about families being separated, children detained and becoming sick, and even people dying as they try to get into our country – many of these people had been seeking asylum from dangerous conditions in their own countries, not far from us. Regardless of the legality of some of their actions (and seeking asylum is a legal action and a human right), many of us have met this real humanitarian crisis with a hardness of heart that saddens me. “They should get in line,” some say. “Deport the ‘illegals’,” “Build a wall.” While these actions can be defended as valid means of securing a border, they still ignore the humanity of the individuals who are suffering. Surely, we can allow our hearts to be softened by Christ?

The challenge of following Jesus has always been that it can never be on our terms. In the Gospel, would-be disciples have their own terms to hand Jesus as a condition of following Him. Christ doesn’t accept them. His invitation is the same: “Follow me.”This means walking in His footsteps– no one else’s. We all have stories of our pressing needs; we all have responsibilities and we all work hard for what we have. Not everyone does; not everyone can. However, we should be able to agree that we can adopt the Christ-like heart to see in each human person a brother or sister, and we can love them as such.

Hardness of heart is a danger for everyone – and especially for people of faith. The only remedy to it is to focus again of Jesus. We must encounter Him truly in the Eucharist and share His love every day. This will condition our hearts to receive the stranger and to seek ways to live together in peace and harmony. If we do not – if our hearts remain hardened – then we miss a unique opportunity of grace – a unique opportunity to encounter Jesus.

This is the challenge that the Gospel places before us. We are called to follow Jesus, and to allow our hearts to be shaped to His. He is ready to receive you. Let’s be people who receive Him – wherever and in whomever He comes to us.

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