The Portland Peninsula and Island Parishes
Homily for the
Fifteenth Sunday of the Year
Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
July 16, 2017
For a long time now, heart disease has been the leading cause of death worldwide. Coronary artery disease, cardiomyopathy, congestive heart failure, hypertension…these and other ailments of the heart are quickly and steadily claiming more and more victims each and every year. As a result of this, doctors and healthcare workers are constantly reminding us about the need for preventative care…we’re told constantly to watch our diets, exercise, and visit the doctor’s office yearly. The heart is such an important organ that we really can’t be too careful…and if we’re not careful, sooner or later it’s going to catch up with us and the consequences could be dire.
But you know, there’s another kind of disease of the heart that’s even more common and more deadly than anything you’ll hear about from your cardiologist. It’s a disease that doesn’t affect our physical hearts, but rather our spiritual hearts. And this is a major theme in the Gospels…Jesus is constantly speaking about the health and well-being of our spiritual hearts.
For example, in Matthew 15:8, Jesus speaks about spiritual hearts that have stopped beating and are inoperative when He says, “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” Just a few verses later, in Matthew 15:19, he goes on to speak about hearts that are diseased…that are filled with sickness and sin; He says, “For from your heart comes evil thoughts, murder, adultery, unchastity, theft, false witness, and blasphemy.” And in Matthew 22:37, Jesus reminds us what our hearts are for…not for apathy or for harboring evil, but for love. He says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” No fewer than 60 times throughout all four Gospels do we hear references to our spiritual hearts…clearly this is important to the Lord.
And today we find out exactly why the Lord is so concerned with our hearts. In our Gospel, Jesus Christ the Divine Physician examines the human heart and offers us His disturbing diagnosis…echoing the words of the Prophet Isaiah, He says, “Gross is the heart of this people…they will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyes.” The Greek word used here for “gross” is epachynthē – it literally refers to fat that has congealed and become dull and hard, like wax. “Calloused” and “hardened” don’t quite convey the same message…Jesus is telling us that our hearts are gross, they are clogged and congested with a waxen fat that prevents them from doing what they were meant to do. It doesn’t really require a whole lot of debate to see that Jesus is spot on here…turn on the news or read the paper and you’ll see story after story of people committing horrible actions and terrible deeds. Sickness and sin plague the hearts of so many of us…gross indeed is the heart of God’s people!
So that’s the diagnosis. What about the prognosis? It’s not good…not good at all. Just as a diseased physical heart leads to physical death, you better believe that a diseased spiritual heart leads to spiritual death. Now it’s easy and tempting for us to ignore this in ourselves and to point it out in others, but the reality is…we’re all sick and we’re all dealing with some pretty severe blockage in our hearts. My heart disease might not be the same as yours, and yours might not be the same as the guy next door, and his might not be the same as Hitler’s, but folks…none of us are as heart healthy as we need to be. And just like physical heart disease, spiritual heart disease can go unnoticed for a long time, slowly and subtly killing us without our being much aware of it. Deliberate sin, however small or insignificant we might think it is, is still terribly taxing on our hearts. Our selfishness and bitterness and sinfulness build up like plaque over time in our spiritual arteries, preventing our hearts from pumping, from loving the way they were meant to. And if this goes untreated over time, this little bit of plaque can develop into an awful lot, and the danger becomes grave.
But, of course, not all is lost. Christ is indeed our good physician…and while He offers us a hard diagnosis and a tough prognosis, He also offers us an infallible treatment if we’re open to receiving it. He is ready to tear open our hearts and to make them like new. He’s ready to fill our disease-stricken hearts with His love, His mercy, and His grace. But like any good surgeon, He’s not going in without our permission. The choice is ours.
The parable of the sower and the seeds that we hear today reminds us that God is so generous with His grace, but we have to be prepared to receive it. We have to ensure that our soil on which the seeds of His grace fall is tilled and rich and ready for planting. We have to be honest with ourselves about the rockiness, and the weeds, and the thorns in our lives that will prevent His grace from taking root…we have to get rid of them and open ourselves up. So ask yourself today…what do you need to do this? A good confession? More prayer? More service? More sacrifice? The answer is all of the above. We need now to ask for the strength to engage in this holy work…and our answer comes from this altar.
Through the abundance of His goodness that we receive at this Holy Mass today, may we continue to respond to the Lord’s offer of grace so that we can truly converts our hearts over to Him, to be made into people with hearts changed and made anew.