Your Journey Through Life: Change of Heart
by Fr. Peter deSousa
"Change my heart O Lord; make it ever new. Change my heart O Lord. May I be like you." We invite the Divine Potter to remove our sinful hearts of stone and give us hearts of flesh instead. (Ez 11:19)
Conversion means more than reciting more prayers, fasting, giving alms or belonging to a prayer group. These are good practices which could lead to spiritual pride, if, because of them, I consider myself better than my spouse who is only a "Sunday Catholic".
"I now no longer live. Christ my Lord lives in me." I have been crucified with Christ. My pride, my self-sufficiency, my anger and lust, my envy and unforgiveness, my coldness and indifference to the suffering of others all need to be removed and replaced with genuine humility, joyful dependence on God's grace and on graciously receiving from others as well as freely sharing with them. The Holy Spirit will give me a warm, open, loving, concerned heart, that is truly human.
Change of heart means loving God and neighbour with all my heart, mind, soul and strength. (Lk 10:27) Between spouses, it means with my body too. Husbands and wives have made a gift of their entire selves to each other on their wedding day and belong to each other, henceforth. They are called to celibacy with everybody else. But essential to marriage is this free donation of their entire selves as male and female to each other.
To be always available to one's spouse entails a constant change of heart. One cannot judge, condemn, find fault with, berate, put down, criticize, ignore the other, for God has commanded the two to be one flesh. Being human there will be many occasions when it is very difficult to make a self-gift to the other, if the other hurt you as only intimates can hurt. Your spouse may lack tenderness, kindness, respect, gentleness, warmth, concern, sensitivity to your needs or suffering. Love the unloveable? YES. Jesus loved us on the cross unconditionally when we sinned. He is the model of conjugal love.
Change of heart is another work for conversion. It is a process that is never completed. It frees us from self interest, egoism and self-worship, so that we may be filled with Divine love and compassion.
God wants mercy, not sacrifices. He wants us to love as Jesus loves us. It is God who removes our hearts of stone and gives us hearts of flesh instead. He does this over and over again in our lives. We never arrive. There are always new challenges in loving and allowing ourselves to be loved by our spouse, at every stage of marriage.
It would be wonderful if like St Paul, we could have a dramatic conversion once and for all. But even Saul took time to become Paul and had to learn how to be a disciple, through the crucible of suffering.
To be a loving and faithful wife or husband, all the days of our life, until death do us part may be easier for those who are blessed with a spouse who is humble, simple, undemanding and kind. But for many, if not most, there are constant clashes, hurts, immaturities, holding back and teaching the other a lesson. "I want my own way. Leave me alone. I am right and you are wrong. Get lost."
God cannot change our hearts unless we freely invite him to do so, everyday and repeatedly in our lives. You cannot run away or take a vacation from being a spouse. Your spouse may indeed give you space and respect your need to be yourself. You are indeed blessed if you have such a thoughtful, sensitive spouse. But your spouse may need you there besides him/her and you cannot take back the YES you made on your wedding day. Love is a decision at such times when you do not feel loving.
Married couples are models to their children of how to love totally and unconditionally. But we have such few models like this. No wonder then, that many young people do not want to get married or have children. They prefer to have casual sex without commitment. They have poor models as parents for the most part. Most of those who do get married, after the honeymoon is over, settle for a marriage of convenience where each one bargains in a subtle way for the love one gives or receives in return. They may pray to God, but rarely as a couple from their hearts. God is largely absent in their relationship because there is no love. So where is God?
God will not remove our hearts of stone unless we freely invite him to do so, everyday and are willing to pay the price. We have to give up what we cling on to, so as to defend, protect or please ourselves with. Conversion is a long and painful process to be still and allow God to be God in our lives. The Divine Vine dresser will prune us so that we may bear fruit of love, compassion, unity and kindness.
Prayer, listening to God's word and sacramental encounters with Christ are all directed to a change of heart towards your spouse, children and all those to whom the Lord is sending you on mission, each day. Such conversion is both personal and as a couple and family. One needs personal prayer and quiet time to listen to the Lord, speaking to you through His Word and inspirations of the Holy Spirit.
Couples need to pray together from their hearts and to listen together to what Jesus is asking of them as spouses. In my thirty four years of working with couples, less than one per cent of the couples I met do this. Prayer as a family is also very necessary daily. Humble, listening, prayer opens up areas of change and conversion in the family relationships. Sharing and responding to each other with openness, kindness, warmth and love will unite you in Jesus' name.
It is good to pray together as a family in your small neighbourhood communities and Parish Church as well. The big Church is made up of domestic Churches. Conversion flows from the individual to the couple, from the couple to the family and from the family to the Community. No one lives as an island or journeys alone.
Be Jesus to each other. See Jesus in each other. Bring out the Jesus in each other.
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For Better or for Worse copyright © Fr. Peter deSousa. All rights reserved. Image titled 'Circumcision of the Heart' copyright © Gwen Meharg