Thursday, 15 December 2016

The Heart Of The Gospel. Part 23.

By Francis Patrick Donnelly

Grieved for the blindness of their hearts.

BLINDNESS of heart is a strange phrase. The heart feels, worries, loves, but does the heart see? And how can the heart be blind? For us the heart more commonly means the source of willing and feeling, less commonly the source of thinking. But in the Scripture the heart often has the meaning of mind; yet always with a shade of difference. When the mind thinks the truth may be bright and clear, but cold, like sunlight in the Arctic zone; when the heart thinks, the truth is warm, like sunlight in warmer zones. The will is never far away when there is talk about the heart, and when our Blessed Lady was pondering the words and deeds of her Son in her heart, it was, we may be sure, no idle reverie, but a deliberate act of the warmest love that made her think and kept her thinking. Knowledge precedes love and love precedes knowledge. We will to open our eyes, and we see to will some more.

Blindness of heart is a strange phrase, but it is a serious one, and implies a state that filled the gentle Lord with grief and anger. Witness the vivid picture given us by St. Mark: "And looking round about on them with anger, being grieved for the blindness of their hearts." There was a lightning flash of anger in the glance which swept the circle of Pharisees on that eventful Sabbath, and that flash, or the look of sad pity which succeeded it, should have found its way through the blindness of even a Pharisaical heart. There was something of the same vexation, though tempered with more grief, when our Lord had to reproach His Apostles for blindness of heart. The Pharisees were blind because they would not see, but the Apostles were blind because they could not see. "Why do you reason, because you have no bread? Do you not yet know or understand? Have you still your heart blinded?"

There is a blindness of heart which closes its eyes to all light. Of such blindness there is scarcely question in the texts cited. There is, however, another blindness which falsifies the light, color-blindness, and another still which dims the light, a kind of shortsightedness. The Pharisees saw something. They saw the law. But like people whose eyes do not respond to red, they were blind to the spirit and the purpose of the law. The law is not an end in itself. It is made for a purpose; it exists for a purpose, and wilfully to close one's eyes to that purpose is to foe blind of heart. Christ gave them light enough. He taught them by reprehension, by action, by a miracle, by a clear and pointed statement of the spirit of the Sabbath law, but all this light was wasted on the Pharisees. Christ cured the withered hand before their eyes, and put his teaching into the terse balance of an epigram: "The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath." All in vain! The Pharisees "going out immediately made a consultation how they might destroy him."

What is this terrible blindness which can resist so much light? It is pride of will. No one is so blind as he who will not see. To admit that Christ was right was to confess that they were wrong, was to submit to His teaching, to obey His decisions, to make an open acknowledgement to their own little world that they were inferior to their new teacher. His words were clear; His proofs were convincing, but their wills were proud and stubborn. They did not simply cover their eyes or close them with lids which might readily part again. Rather they blinded themselves, refusing to yield free obedience to the teaching of Christ. The Pharisees plucked out the eye of their heart and would not see Christ's interpretation of the law.

The Apostles were blind, too, but their blindness was due to a lack of light, not to a rejection of the light. Their vision had not been destroyed. It needed, however, to be rectified. When Christ told them to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, the Apostles understood Him literally, and were somewhat alarmed because most of their bakers belonged to the Pharisees. There was to be no more bread for them, they thought. Christ had to tell them that the leaven of the Pharisees meant the Pharisees' hypocrisy, their evil doctrines, which would secretly permeate and corrupt the soul. He reminded His Apostles that He had fed thousands, and there were baskets of fragments over and above. But He talked to men whose spiritual eyesight was dim, whose souls were not lifted above the tangible and sensible, whose vision was hampered by the material and did not pierce to the spiritual. "Have you still your heart blinded?"

Blind of heart are those whose whole life is given to pleasures and to the gratification of the senses. Blind of heart are those who make wealth the only good and the supreme good. Blind of heart are those to who applause is the sweetest of sounds, and a high position the greatest delight. All these do not savor the things of God. To speak to them of the delights of prayer, of the consolation of Communion, of peace of conscience, is to use a foreign language. They hear the words; they note the gestures; they cannot fathom the meaning. A man of no literary tastes cannot understand the enjoyment of poetry. It seems to him midsummer madness. A man of blinded heart looks on religion and its practices as so many mysteries, cannot imagine they possess any charm, and deems religious people weakminded or unbalanced.