“The Lord softens those with hard hearts, those who condemn all who are outside the law.” This was the message of Pope Francis homily, during Tuesday’s Mass in the Vatican’s Santa Marta residence. He said that those who are hard hearted do not know the tenderness of God and his ability to remove hearts of stone and replace them with hearts of flesh.
Beginning with the first reading, in which St Stephen was stoned to death by the temple authorities in Jerusalem, the Pope reflected on the witness of Christian obedience. He said that those who stoned Stephen to death did not understand the word of God. Stephen had called them “circumcised of heart,” which was the equivalent of calling someone a pagan.
According the Pope, there are different ways of not understanding the word of God. For example, when Jesus had met the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, he had called them “fools.” This was not an expression of praise, but it was also not a strong word either, unlike Stephen’s expression.
“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, according to the Pope, is the drama of the closed hearted.
Turning to Psalm 94, the Lord admonished his people not to harden their hearts. Then Pope Francis said, the prophet Ezekiel 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.
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.”
Pope Francis said “There was no place in their hearts for the Holy Spirit. In fact, the letter today speaks of how Stephen was filled with the Holy Spirit, he had understood everything, he was a witness to the obedience of the word made flesh, and this was done by the Holy Spirit. He was filled. A closed heart, a hardened heart, a pagan heart doesn’t let the spirit in and feels himself in himself.”
According to the Pope, 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.”
The Pope concluded with a reflection on the meeting between Jesus and the woman caught in adultery. He said that every one of us enters into a dialogue between Jesus and the victim of the hearts of stone, the adulteress. And to those who want to stone her, Jesus says “Look within yourselves:”
“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.”