Let me work on my heart

March 3, 2019frjohnma

My dear Spiritual companion, today Jesus is not only saying we should love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, bless those who curse us, and pray for those who abuse us but we should work on our hearts before attending to other people especially in the areas of self-criticism and correction. Put differently, we should renew the virtue of self-introspection. He says in the gospel, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye” (Luke 6:41-42). It is pertinent to reveal the truth that is seemingly “kept secret”: Christianity is a religion of the heart.We need to work at our heart level. The easiest mistake to make in our spiritual life is to focus on external behavior while neglecting the internal aspect of the heart. And to neglect heart work is to risk spiritual disintegration. A work on the heart is the core of the whole Christian journey and faith life.

If we fail to pay attention to ourselves and unearth our psychological and spiritual baggage and concentrate on a fault-finding mission about other people, we are likely to forget ourselves and expand our hearts with our own faults. The gospel ends with the consequence: “The good man out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure produces evil; for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). Meaning our words would become a reflection of what we have inside of us. Now you can see why Ben Sirach (27:5-8) says we should never praise any man until we have heard him speak. Why? We are our words! The way we speak reflects the stuff we are made of.

For Jesus, what really counts in spiritual formation, transformation and maturity is not externals but the interior dispositions of the heart. If you are interested in offering answers to the questions of meaning, purpose, direction and strength in your life within a changing world, then you need to cultivate and practise a spirituality of the heart. This implies a set of movements in our Christian life: from saying prayers to praying; from being right to being good; from looking outward to looking inward!

About looking inward, this defines the basis of working on my heart. It is my determination for unearthing my “false self” as reflected in my shadows or getting into my dark treasury or confronting the unconscious instance of my mind which has repressed and suppressed fears, shame, hurtful feelings, sexual feelings, and selfishness, the seven capital sins in my heart. Listen to Jesus Christ, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and so passes on? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man” (Matt. 15: 10-20). Now confronting the unconscious or our shadows is going contrary to our nature. We are usually not comfortable with it. But it is the core of spiritual growth and development. God bless you!

Reflective guide

Have you ever identified with the struggle of St. Paul in Romans 7:14-15, 18?

What are you doing about such struggle?

Fr. John-Mary Atep

Comments (12)

  • AndyMarie

    March 3, 2019 at 9:54 pm

    May the grace of God enable us to discover our faults and weaknesses so that through Mary’s intercession we will turn for good. Amen. Thanks padre

    1. frjohnma

      March 4, 2019 at 3:15 pm

      Thanks for your feedback and prayers

  • Victoria Pillah

    March 4, 2019 at 1:18 am

    What is the difference between saying prayers and praying? I really need to be educated. Is reading from prayer books saying prayers? While Contemplative prayer is praying? Well-done Fr John Mary Atep the teacher.

    1. frjohnma

      March 4, 2019 at 3:12 pm

      The Three Hermits
      The great Russian thinker, philosopher and writer, Leo Tolstoy has written a beautiful short story on prayer. He titled the story as The Three Hermits. For those who are unaware about it, the story is about the lesson learnt by a bishop aboard a fishing boat. Being a devout Christian, he gets very curious when he overhears a conversation centering on three hermits living in isolation on an island. These hermits are apparently working for their ultimate salvation. The bishop expresses a strong desire to meet the hermits.
      Coming face to face with them, he asks them what they do for their salvation. They shake their heads in humility and say that they just keep repeating a prayer – “Three are ye, three are we, have mercy upon us.” Hearing this, the bishop feels that he should help them out. He teaches them the meaning of the doctrine of the Trinity and how to pray correctly. He teaches them the Lord’s Prayer, ‘Our Father Thou Art in Heaven…’. Make them repeat late into the night, the bishop leaves the island only after satisfying himself that he had helped the hermits.
      A couple of hours later, the bishop sees bright lights headed straight towards the boat. He mistakes it for a bigger boat. As the lights draw nearer, to his utter amazement, the bishop sees the three hermits, RUNNING across the waters hand-in-hand towards the boat. They shout out,
      “We have forgotten your teaching, servant of God. As long as we kept repeating it we remembered, but when we stopped saying it for a time, a word dropped out, and now it has all gone to pieces. We can remember nothing of it. Teach us again.”
      The bishop humbled and wise now, replies to the hermits: “Your own prayer will reach the Lord, men of God. It is not for me to teach you. Please include me in your prayers. ” The hermits just turn around and walk back to their island. They never learn any prayer in their life and yet spend it completely in prayer.
      *Saying prayers and praying are two prayer attitudes. In a strict sense saying prayer is to pray mechanically without depth, it is to repeat prayers without meaning, it is to read the words of prayer from the prayer books without drawing the content and meaning and applying them to your life. It is not praying from and with the heart. Just babbling without getting the insights of the words of prayer. The CCC #2111 says, “Mere repeated religious gestures or words, bereft of interior values, are sham, even superstition.” God forbid we be one of those who give “lip service” but that our hearts are far from what we say! On the other hand praying is an attitude where prayer flows from the heart. Even if the prayers are written as in a prayer book, the one who prays is conscious of the prayer rhythm and spirit. And above all the prayer content are applied to his/her day to day living. Finally to pray from books is a faith heritage that we must not trivialize and neglect. We all pray from books especially the liturgy and sacraments. The Bible is a prayer book aside from being the book of God’s divine revelations. So, pious societies are doing well to pray from the books. The challenge is that many may end up just saying the prayers and not praying as we have explained above. I hope I have made an attempt to respond to your very important and well informed questions? Thanks for sharing!

  • Gerard-Mary

    March 4, 2019 at 9:46 am

    Amen. The heart or interior of a person apparently defines who a person is. The external is characterised by so many variables that can only be correctly defined by the interior. External acts like eating without washing hands etc. I concur with you Father, that topics such as “Let me work on my heart” is timely especially as we approach Lent this week. Working on “self” is a harder labour than working on “others”. Kind regards Father John-Mary Benedict Ntol Atep.

    1. frjohnma

      March 4, 2019 at 3:13 pm

      Gerard-Mary thanks a lot for your insights and contributions! You are great

  • Gerard-Mary

    March 4, 2019 at 10:06 am

    Renouncement of will, daily dying to self, submission to God’s will: over and above all – life of union with Mary (doing everything through, with, in and for Mary as a perfect means of doing everything through, with, in and for Jesus Christ is a way forward to combat the experience of Rom: 7: 14-15, 18. Practical life of Total Consecration as taught by St. Louis Marie De Montfort’s True Devotion to Mary is best for the struggle. Thanks Father.

    1. frjohnma

      March 4, 2019 at 3:14 pm

      This is the Montfort himself! I am with you!

  • Kelechi

    March 4, 2019 at 1:05 pm

    Thanks you very much, Father. This reflection is indeed a blessing.

    1. frjohnma

      March 4, 2019 at 3:17 pm

      Thanks a million!

  • Tricia Onah

    March 4, 2019 at 10:53 pm

    Wao! Very enriching insights. I couldn’t take my eyes off the text until I finished reading. I also gained from the comments and responses. Thank you Fr. John Mary for creating this forum for acquisition and sharing of spiritual insights. Thank you all.

    1. frjohnma

      March 5, 2019 at 9:00 am

      Oh my God! Thanks for your thoughtful words and encouragement.

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