“The Lord softens those with hard hearts, those who condemn all who are outside the law.”
According to Vatican Radio, Pope Francis underscored this today, May 2, 2017, during his daily morning Mass at Casa Santa Marta.
The Pope’s homily focused on today’s first reading, in which St Stephen was stoned to death by the temple authorities in Jerusalem. Those who stoned Stephen to death, the Pontiff noted, did not understand the Word of God. He also noted that Stephen had called them “circumcised of heart,” the equivalent of calling someone a pagan.
There are different ways of not understanding the Word of God, the Jesuit Pope pointed out.
For example, he noted, when Jesus had met the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, he had called them “fools.” This, the Pontiff noted, was not an expression of praise, but it was also not a strong word either, unlike Stephen’s expression.
Hearts of Stone
“They did not understand, they were afraid, because they did not want problems, they had fear, but they were good men, open to the truth” said the Pope.
“And when Jesus rebuked them, they let his words enter them and their hearts burned within them, whilst those who stoned Stephen were furious and did not want to listen!”
This is, the Pope stressed, the drama of the closed hearted.
The Jesuit Pontiff recalled how in Psalm 94, the Lord admonished his people not to harden their hearts. The prophet Ezekiel, Francis said, makes a “beautiful promise” to change the heart of stone into a heart of flesh, a heart that knows how to listen and receive the witness of obedience.
“This causes suffering in the Church. The closed hearts, the hearts of stone, the hearts which do not want to be open, do not want to hear, the hearts which only know the language of condemnation.”
“They know how to condemn, they do not know how to say ‘Explain it to me, why do you say this? Why this? Explain it to me.’ No, they are closed. That’s all they know. They have no need of explanations,” said Pope Francis.
Closed Hearts Cannot Let Spirit In
The rebuke that Jesus speaks of also led to the killing of the prophets, “because they spoke to you what you did not want to hear. A closed heart cannot let the Holy Spirit enter in.”
“There was no place in their hearts,” Francis observed, “for the Holy Spirit.
The letter today, the Jesuit Pontiff recalled, speaks of how Stephen was filled with the Holy Spirit, had understood everything, and was a witness to the obedience of the Word made flesh, and this was done by the Holy Spirit. “He was filled,” the Pope said.
“A closed heart, a hardened heart, a pagan heart, doesn’t let the spirit in and feels himself in himself.”
The Pope underscored that the disciples on the road to Emmaus represent us, “with our many doubts, many sins. Many times we want to move away from the Cross, from the truth, but let us make space to hear Jesus, who makes our hearts burn.
“The other group, who are closed in the rigidity of the law, who do not want to hear Jesus, are saying worse things than Stephen did,” he said.
The Pope concluded with the following reflection on the meeting between Jesus and the woman caught in adultery.
“Today, we look at the tenderness of Jesus, the witness of obedience, that great witness, Jesus, who has given life, which makes us look for the tenderness of God, confronting us, our sins, our weaknesses.
“Let us enter this dialogue and let us call for the grace of the Lord which softens the rigid hearts of those people who are always closed in the law and condemn all who are outside the law. They do not know that the word became flesh, that the word is a witness to obedience. They do not know the tenderness of God and his ability to take out the heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh.”