Nourishing the Word in Our Hearts

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It will turn out to be a chance for you to bear witness. Therefore put it in your hearts not to prepare ahead of time your defense. for I will give you speech and wisdom such that ll those opposing you will n to be able to resist or contradict. 

Luke 21: 13-15

“Put it in your hearts not to prepare ahead of time your defense.” Jesus tells his disciples that if they are to be ready to bear witness when called upon to do so, they must pit his words and his promise in their hearts in preparation. Luke Timothy Johnson points out that this is the third time that Luke has used comparable terms in his gospel. The first is at the time of the birth of John the Baptist when Zechariah writes on the tablet that the child’s name is to be John, and at that moment regains his speech. As this story makes its way around the environs, Luke says “Everyone who heard it took it to heart” (Luke 1: 66). Then, as he is about to predict his passion for the second time, Jesus tells his followers: “Pay close attention to these words: the Son of Man is about to be handed over to human power” (Luke 9: 44).

These three moments in Luke’s gospel call us to reflect on the birth of the Word of God in us and of how we must continually cultivate it if we are to remember and be faithful to it at the moments we too are called “to bear witness.” As those who hear the story of the birth of John the Baptist, we have our own experiences of witnessing and being formed by the power of the mystery and love of God. In fact, that love is being offered to us continually through “the ordinary unspectacular flow of everyday life.” The question that the gospel raises is: “Do we truly ‘take to heart’ what is offered and spoken to us?”. Luke’s model is Mary who “treasured all these things pondering them to her heart” (Luke 2: 19). We live in a time of hyper-stimulation and constant novelty. Perhaps we can ask ourselves where and how we can make and take time to ponder the formative effects of our daily lives so that the love that is behind them can take root in our hearts. What is asked of us if we are to prepare within the ground to receive the seed of God’s Word?

In his prediction of his and then his disciples’ passions, Jesus points out that our capacity to receive the grace we shall be given in moments of struggle and difficulty depends on our being able to recollect the Word that we have taken deeply into our hearts. He says in today’s gospel that we need not rehearse for difficult times because we shall always be given the speech and wisdom that we need, if we are able to stay united with the Word that has taken root in our hearts.

To witness or even hear about the tremendous courage that many human beings show in the face of persecution and danger is a challenging and humbling experience. How can they, how do they do this? At a distance from the difficulties of our own lives, it can seem as if we could never adequately face them. Yet, somehow, if we can be in the moment with our whole hearts, we discover that we do in such difficult circumstances what there is to be done. The root of the word “courage” is heart. We cannot put courage into our hearts, but we can be given the courage, says Jesus, to face all of life’s challenges if we remember, not just with our thoughts but with our hearts, the Word that lives there within us. The Word, as St. Augustine said, “that is closer to us than we are to ourselves.”

As I have often said that there is a power in the soul that touches neither time nor flesh. It flows from the spirit and remains in the spirit and is wholly spiritual. In this power God is always verdant and blossoming in all the joy and the honor that God is in himself. That is a joy so heartfelt, a joy so incomprehensible and great that no none can tell it all. For it is in this power that the eternal Father ceaselessly brings his eternal Son so to birth, that this power also is bearing the Son of the Father, and bearing itself, that same Son, in the single power of the Father. If a person possessed a whole kingdom, or all the riches of the earth, and gave up the whole of it for the love of God and became one of the poorest persons that ever lived on earth, and if God then gave that person as much to suffer as God has ever given any person, and if that person suffered it all until his death, and if God then gave that person one single glimpse of what the person is in this power, that one’s joy would be so great that all this suffering and poverty would be too little. Yes, even if after this God never gave this person the kingdom of heaven, the person would have received a reward great enough for all that the person had ever suffered, for God is present in this power as God is in the eternal now. 

Meister Eckhart, Sermon 2

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