17 October 2019

'Cor ad cor loquitur - Heart speaks to heart.' Sunday Reflections, 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Moses, Michelangelo [Web Gallery of Art]
(First Reading, Exodus 17:8-13)

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

Gospel Luke 18:1-8 (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition, Canada)  

Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, ‘In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, “Grant me justice against my opponent.” For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.”’ And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’

Luke 8:1-8 in Filipino Sign Language

John Henry Cardinal Newman
Sir John Everett Millais [Wikipedia]

The Opening Prayer in today’s Mass starts with these words: Almighty ever-living God, grant that we may always conform our will to yours and serve your majesty in sincerity of heart . . .

This prayer is a synopsis, a summary of what the Christian life is: following Jesus and, with him, submitting our own will to the will of the Father., as Jesus himself did. In John 6:38 Jesus tells us: I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me.

We receive the gift of faith through baptism and God nourishes that faith through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the sacraments. We cooperate with God when we pray.

The First Reading and the Gospel today are specifically about prayer. Moses prays for the Hebrew soldiers as they battle with the Amalekites. He holds his arms outstretched as he prays, Aaron and Hur supporting them. Jesus in the gospel invites us to continually pray for our needs and assures us that God will hear us and respond: Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night? (18:7).

St John Henry Newman's Coat of Arms [Wikipedia]

Our baptism and our prayer bring us into relationship with a loving God. Last Sunday Pope Francis canonised St John Henry Newman whose motto as a cardinal was Cor ad cor loquitur – Heart speaks to heart. This goes right to the heart of the Christian life in every sense. Pope Benedict spoke beautifully about this at the Mass during which Cardinal Newman was beatified in Birmingham on 19 September 2010: 

Cardinal Newman’s motto, Cor ad cor loquitur, or ‘Heart speaks unto heart’, gives us an insight into his understanding of the Christian life as a call to holiness, experienced as the profound desire of the human heart to enter into intimate communion with the Heart of God. He reminds us that faithfulness to prayer gradually transforms us into the divine likeness. As he wrote in one of his many fine sermons, ‘a habit of prayer, the practice of turning to God and the unseen world in every season, in every place, in every emergency – prayer, I say, has what may be called a natural effect in spiritualizing and elevating the soul. A man is no longer what he was before; gradually … he has imbibed a new set of ideas, and become imbued with fresh principles’.

St Paul puts it this way: Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5). While Moses didn’t know Jesus Christ, he tried all his life as leader of the Hebrews, the position to which God called him, to have the same mind in him that was in God, with whom he spoke heart to heart. And he persisted in praying to God on behalf of his people, most especially when they sinned. While scolding his people he never ceased to pray for them. Like the widow in the parable ‘pestering’, ‘bothering’, ‘wearing out’ - different English translations - the unjust judge, Moses did the same to God in his prayer.

St John Henry Newman was a great theologian, a great preacher and, above all, a great priest. Pope Benedict in his homily focused on how Newman lived the priesthood, a pastor of souls: visiting the sick and the poor, comforting the bereaved, caring for those in prison. No wonder that on his death so many thousands of people lined the local streets as his body was taken to its place of burial.

The Pope made reference to thebeautiful description of the Christian life that Newman wrote and that recognises the specific, unique call or vocation each of us has: God has created me to do Him some definite service; He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission—I never may know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. Somehow I am necessary for His purposes, as necessary in my place as an Archangel in his—if, indeed, I fail, He can raise another, as He could make the stones children of Abraham. Yet I have a part in this great work; I am a link in a chain, a bond of connexion between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good, I shall do His work; I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it, if I do but keep His commandments and serve Him in my calling.

Therefore I will trust Him. Whatever, wherever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. My sickness, or perplexity, or sorrow may be necessary causes of some great end, which is quite beyond us. He does nothing in vain; He may prolong my life, He may shorten it; He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends, He may throw me among strangers, He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide the future from me—still He knows what He is about.

These words of the new saint expand on our Opening Prayer: Almighty ever-living God, grant that we may always conform our will to yours and serve your majesty in sincerity of heart . . .


In Sunday Reflections for this Sunday three years ago I included this video, in a different context. 

I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it, if I do but keep His commandments and serve Him in my calling (St John Henry Newman).

The story of Abu Wad, 'Father of the flowers', whose whole existence seems dedicated to the beauty of life, and his 13-year-old son Ibrahim is both heartbreaking and hope-filled. May we continue to pray for peace in Syria where war has been raging along its border with Turkey since last week.

And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? 

Ibrahim about 18 months later

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