Hebrews

 Chapter 3

7-14

 

The Holy Spirit speaks to us: “Brethren, as the Holy Spirit Says”. And in this passage from the Letter to the Hebrews there are two words that the Holy Spirit repeats: ‘today’ and ‘heart’. Paul writes, in fact: “Today, when you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts”. Psalm 94: “we have requested this grace: that our heart not harden, that it not be hard”.

Hence, “today” is the first word. But “the ‘today’ that the Holy Spirit is speaking about is our life, it is ‘a today’, as the same Spirit says, ‘full of days’, but it is a today. It is a today after which there will be no replay, in other words, no “tomorrow”, only “today”. And the sunset may be closer or farther off, but it is today, a today chosen by God, a today in which we have received God’s love, God’s promise that we can find him, be with him”. It is “a today in which, in every day of this today, we can renew our covenant by faithfulness to God. But it is a today, because there is only one today in our life.

Of course, there is always the temptation to say “I’ll do it tomorrow”. It is the temptation of the tomorrow that will not be, as Jesus himself explains to us in the parable of the 10 virgins: five foolish [maidens] went to buy oil, which they didn’t have. Yes, later, tomorrow. But in the end, when they arrived, the door was shut.

Thus, life “is today”. It is a today that begins and a today that ends; a today full of days, but it is today. The parable of the man who went to the Lord and knocked at the door: ‘Lord, open up, it’s me, don’t you remember? I ate with you, I was with you’. But the Lord answers him: “I don’t know you, you arrived late”.

I say this not to scare you, but simply to say that our life is a today. It’s either today or never. I think about this. The tomorrow will be the eternal tomorrow, with no sunset, with the Lord, for ever, if I am faithful to this today. And, the question I ask you is this one that the Holy Spirit asks: ‘how am I living this today?’.

The other word found in reading from the Letter to the Hebrews proposed for the day’s liturgy is “heart”. For “with our heart, we encounter the Lord”. But, how is our heart?. Saint Paul gives specific advice in his Letter: “Do not harden your hearts”. Thus, it is good to ask ourselves if our “heart is hard, if it is closed”, perhaps “faithless, sinful, seduced”. After all, Jesus often rebukes the people who are slow at heart, slow to understand. It is precisely “in our heart” that “the today is at play”. This is why we must ask ourselves if “our heart is open to the Lord”.

It always strikes me, when I find an elderly person, oftentimes a priest or a nun, who tells me: ‘Father, pray for my final perseverance’. It is natural to ask those persons if they have fear after having lived their whole life well, living every day of their “today in service to the Lord”. But it is really not a question of fear, as those people respond: “The sun has not yet set on my life, I would like to live it fully, pray that today is full, full, with my heart steadfast in faith and not ruined by sin, by vices, by corruption”.

Above all, today: this today full of days, but a today that will not be repeated; today, the days keep repeating until the Lord says ‘enough’. But “today is not repeated: this is life”. The second word is “heart”, and we must always keep our heart open to the Lord, not closed, not hard, not hardened, not faithless, not sinful, not seduced by sins. And the Lord encountered many who had a closed heart: the doctors of the law, all these people who persecuted him, put him to the test in order to condemn him, and in the end managed to do so.

Let’s go home with just these two words: “how is my today?”. Without forgetting that “the sunset might be today, this very day or many days thereafter”. But it is important to check “how my today is going in the Lord’s presence”. We should also ask ourselves: “how is my heart: is it open, is it steadfast in faith, does it let itself be led by the Lord’s love?”. And with these two questions let us ask the Lord for the grace that each one of us needs.


Pope Francis      17.01.19    Holy Mass, Santa Marta      Hebrews 3: 7-14
https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope-francis/mass-casa-santa-marta/2019-01/word-of-god-is-not-ideology-it-is-life-that-makes-us-grow.html

Take care, brothers, that none of you may have an evil and unfaithful heart, so as to forsake the living God. This is the harsh message, the warning, that the author of the Letter to the Hebrews addresses to the Christian community in today’s liturgy. The Christian community, in all its components - priests, nuns, bishops - runs this danger of slipping towards a perverse heart.

But what does this warning mean to us? The three words, again taken from the First Reading, can help us to understand: “hardness”, “obstinacy”, and “seduction".

A hard heart is a closed heart, that does not want to grow, that defends itself, that is closed in on itself. In life this can happen because of many factors; as, for example, a great sorrow, because, blows harden the skin. It happened to the disciples of Emmaus, as well as to St Thomas the Apostle. And whoever remains in this bad attitude is fainthearted; and a cowardly heart is perverse.

We can ask ourselves: Do I have a hard heart, do I have a closed heart? Do I let my heart grow? Am I afraid that it will grow? And we always grow with trials, with difficulties, we grow as we all grow as children: we learn to walk by falling. From crawling to walking, how many times we have fallen! But we grow through difficulties. Hardness. And, what amounts to the same thing, being closed. But who remains in this? Who are they, father? They are the fainthearted. Faintheartedness is an ugly attitude in a Christian, he lacks the courage to live. He is closed off...

The second word is obstinacy: In the Letter to the Hebrews we read, “Exhort each other every day, as long as this today lasts, so that none of you may be obstinate”; and this is the accusation that Stephen makes to those who will stone him afterwards. Obstinacy is spiritual stubbornness; an obstinate heart is rebellious, is stubborn, is closed in by its own thought, is not open to the Holy Spirit. This is the profile of ideologues, and of the proud and the arrogant.

Ideology is a kind of obstinacy. The Word of God, the grace of the Holy Spirit is not ideology: it is life that makes you grow, always, that makes you go forward, and also opens your heart to the signs of the Spirit, to the signs of the times. But obstinacy is also pride, it is arrogance. Stubbornness, that stubbornness that does so much harm: closed-hearted, hard – the first word – those are the fainthearted; the stubborn, the obstinate, as the text says the ideologues are. But do I have a stubborn heart? Each one should consider this. Am I able to listen to other people? And if I think differently, do I say, “But I think this...” Am I capable of dialogue? The obstinate don’t dialogue, they don’t know how, because they always defend themselves with ideas, they are ideologues. And how much harm do ideologues do to the people of God, how much harm! Because they close the way to the work of the Holy Spirit.

Finally,
seduction: the seduction of sin, used by the devil, the great seducer, a great theologian but without faith, with hatred, who wants to enter and dominate the heart and knows how to do it. So a perverse heart is one that lets itself be seduced; and seduction leads him to obstinacy, to closure, and to many other things.

And with seduction, either you convert and change your life or you try to compromise: but a little here and a little there, a little here and a little there. “Yes, yes, I follow the Lord, but I like this seduction, but just a little...” And you’re starting to lead a double Christian life. To use the word of the great Elijah to the people of Israel at that moment: “You limp from both legs”. To limp from both legs, without having one set firmly. It is the life of compromise: “Yes, I am a Christian, I follow the Lord, yes, but I let this in...”. And this is what the luke
warm are like, those who always compromise: Christians of compromise. We, too, often do this: compromise. Even when the Lord lets us know the path, even with the commandments, also with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, but I prefer something else, and I try to find a way to go down two tracks, limping on both legs.

May the Holy Spirit, therefore, enlighten us so that no one may have a perverse heart: a hard heart, which will lead you to faintheartedness; a stubborn heart that will lead you to rebellion, that will lead you to ideology; a heart that is seduced, a slave to seduction.

 Chapter 10

32-39

 

"The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord” (Ps 37[36]:39). This Psalm verse, reminds us of the truth that “salvation is a gift the Lord gives”: it can’t be bought nor obtained through study, for it is always a gift, a present. But the real question is: “How to protect this salvation? What to do so this salvation remains in us and bears fruit, as Jesus explains, like a seed or kernel of mustard?” Mark (4:26-35).

Hebrews (10:32-39), there are criteria to protect this present, this gift of salvation; in order to allow this salvation to go forth and bear its fruit in us.

The first criterion is that of
memory. In fact, we read in the text: “Brethren, recall the former days, after you received the light of Christ”. Those are “the days of the first love”, as the prophets say: it is “the day of the encounter with Jesus”. Because, when we encountered Jesus, or better yet, when “He let Himself be encountered by us, for it is He who does all” — “it brought great joy, the will to do great things”, as the same author of the Letter explains. Therefore, the first criterion to protect the gift of salvation is “not to forget those first days” marked by “certain enthusiasm”: most of all, “do not forget” that “first love”.

The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews then goes on, emphasizing the “joy that enabled you to bear all things”, to a point when “all seemed meagre in those former days, and one went forth with enthusiasm”. The Letter exhorts us not to abandon that courage — namely ‘this honesty’ — that parrhesìa of those former days. It is indeed that “first love” which made grow within us that courage, that ‘let’s go on!’, that enthusiasm.

The call, however, is to not abandon honesty. But, “abandon” is not even the right word, if we go to the original text we find a powerful expression: “Do not throw away, do not waste, do not reject honesty”. It is like a rejection: do not push away this honesty, this courage, the courage of the former days.

This is why memory is so important, to remember the grace received. Indeed, if we push away this enthusiasm which comes from our memory of that first love, this enthusiasm which comes from the first love then what comes is that serious danger to Christians: warmth. For
lukewarm Christians stay there, idle; and yes, they are Christians, but they have forgotten that first love, they have lost their enthusiasm. What’s more, lukewarm Christians have also lost patience, that ‘tolerating’ things in life with the spirit of Jesus’ love; that ‘tolerating’, that bearing difficulties “on one’s shoulders’. This is why, lukewarm Christians, the poor souls, are in grave danger.

In this regard, there are two images which really strike me, and of which each person should be warned: “But you are lukewarm, be careful!”. St Peter, in his Second Letter, uses the image of the dog who turns back to its own vomit. And this image is distasteful, however, it is a fitting example of “the lukewarm Christian” who returns to that “first love, as if that love never existed”.

The second image, also unpleasant is the one that Jesus recounts of the person who wants to follow Him, and does follow Him, and then He casts out the
demon. This demon, who has gone out of the man, passes through the desert with the intention of returning to that man, to that woman from which he came. And when he returns, he finds the house in order, clean and nice. Thus he gets angry, goes, looks for seven demons worse than him and returns to take possession of that house. And in this way the person isn’t wounded, because it involves ‘polite’ demons: who even knock on the door to come in, but they do come in. The same happens to a lukewarm Christian who doesn’t know who is knocking at the door and opens it, even saying come in! But, Jesus says, in the end, that soul ends up even worse than before.

These two images of the warmth of the Christian make us think. This way we must never forget our first love; rather, we should always remember that first love. This is why the answer to the question how do I go on? is: “with
hope”. That is what the Letter to the Hebrews says to every Christian: For yet a little while, and the coming one shall come and shall not tarry.

And thus there are two parameters available to the Christian: “memory and hope”. Ultimately it means reclaiming the memory so as not to lose that most beautiful experience of the first love which nourishes our hope. So often, hope is dark. But the Christian goes forward. He believes. He goes, for he knows that hope does not disappoint, to find Jesus.

These two parameters are the very framework in which we are able to protect this salvation of the righteous which comes from the Lord, this gift of the Lord. We must protect this salvation, for the little mustard seed to grow and bear its fruit. However, many Christians, cause pain, create heartache — so many Christians!. They are the many Christians who go halfway and fail along this path toward the encounter with Jesus. Even if the journey began with the encounter with Jesus, in the middle of the road, they have lost the memory of that first love and have no hope.

Ask the Lord for the grace to protect the present, the gift of salvation. It is a gift that each Christian must protect on this journey that always reclaims the memory and hope. But, He alone can give us this grace: may He send us the Holy Spirit to walk on this path.


Pope Francis   01.02.19    Holy Mass, Santa Marta        Hebrews 10: 32-39 
 
Pope Francis 01.02.19 Homily at Santa Marta
It is when desolation and dark moments make one lose the meaning of things that Christians must persevere in order to reach the promise of the Lord without falling down or retreating.

Christian life is not a carnival or a continuous feast and joy. It has good times as well as ugly ones, moments of warmth and of detachment, where not everything has meaning... moments of desolation.

It is during a moment of internal persecution and inner state of the soul that the author of the Letter to the Hebrews urges Christians to perseverance. You need endurance to do the will of God and receive what he has promised.  One needs perseverance to reach the promise.

Like the apostle, one must first of all recall the beautiful moments, the happy days of our encounter with the Lord, the time of love. And, secondly, we must have hope for what has been promised us. With life consisting of good and
bad times, it is important not to allow oneself to fall and go back in moments of difficulty.

Christians should not give in to bad times, but should endure in memory and hope - an endurance of the heart which recalls good times and breathes when looking up to hope. Finding the consolation of the promise of the Lord is what we must do in moments of desolation.


In my apostolic visit to Lithuania, in September 2018, I was moved by the courage of so many Christians and martyrs who persevered in faith.

Even today, many men and women suffer for their faith but remember the first encounter with Jesus and gain hope and go ahead. Perseverance is the advice of the author of the Letter to the Hebrews to Christians in times of persecution and attacks.

May Christians always look to the Lord when the devil attacks us with temptations. With our miseries we must always look to the Lord, have the perseverance of the Cross recalling the first beautiful moments of love, of our encounter with the Lord and the hope that awaits us.


 Chapter 12

1-4

 

Hebrews 12:1-4; the author of the Letter to the Hebrews refers to the memory of the first days after conversion, after the encounter with Jesus, and also refers to the memory of our fathers: “how
https://sites.google.com/site/francishomilies/contemplative-prayer/Daily%20contemplation%20crop.jpg
much they suffered when they were on the journey”. The author, looking to these fathers says: we too ‘are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses’. Thus, it is the testimony of our ancestors that he recalls. And he also recalls our experience, when we were so happy in the first encounter with Jesus. This is the memory, which we spoke about as a point of reference for Christian life.

But today, the author of the letter speaks about another point of reference, namely,
hope. And he tells us that we must have the courage to go forward: let us persevere in running the race that lies before us. Then he says what is the very core of hope: ‘keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus’”. This is the point: if we don’t keep our eyes fixed on Jesus it is difficult for us to have hope. We can perhaps be optimistic, be positive, but hope?

After all, hope is learned only by looking to Jesus, contemplating Jesus; we learn through
contemplative prayer. I can ask you: how do you pray?. Someone, he said, might respond: “Father, I say the prayers I learned as a child”. Okay, this is good. Someone else might add: “I pray the rosary too, every day!” It’s good to pray the rosary every day. And finally, one might say: “I also talk with the Lord, when I have a problem, or with Our Lady or with the saints...”. And “this is good” too.

Do you pray in contemplation? The question might throw us a curve, and someone might ask: “What is this, Father? What is this prayer? Where can we buy it? How do we do it?”. It can be done only with the Gospel in hand. Basically, you pick up the Gospel, select a passage, read it once, read it twice; imagine, as if you see what is happening, and contemplate Jesus.

Mark 5:21-43 teaches us many beautiful things. How do I contemplate with today’s Gospel? I see that Jesus was in the midst of the crowd, there was a great crowd around Him. The word ‘crowd’ is used five times this passage. But doesn’t Jesus rest? I can imagine: always with the crowd! Most of Jesus’ life is spent on the street, with the crowd. Doesn’t He rest? Yes, once: the Gospel says that He slept on the boat, but the storm came and the disciples woke Him. Jesus was constantly among the people.

For this reason, we look to Jesus this way, I contemplate Jesus this way, I imagine Jesus this way. And I say to Jesus whatever comes to my mind to say to Him.

Then, in the midst of the crowd, there was that sick woman, and Jesus was aware. But how did Jesus, in the middle of so many people, realize that a woman had touched Him? And, indeed, He asked directly: “Who touched me?”. The disciples, in return, pointed out to Jesus: “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’”. The question, is that Jesus not only understands the crowd, feels the crowd, but He hears the beating of each one of our hearts, of each one of us: He cares for all and for each one, always!

The same situation happens again when the ruler of the Synagogue approaches Jesus to tell Him about his gravely ill little daughter. And He leaves everything to tend to this one: Jesus in the great and in the small, always! Then, we can go on and see that He arrives at the house, He sees that tumult, those women who were called to mourn over the dead body, wailing, weeping. But Jesus says: “Don’t worry: she’s sleeping!”. And in response to these words, some even begin to scoff at Him. However, He stays quiet and with his patience he manages to bear this situation, to avoid responding to those who mock Him.

The Gospel account culminates with the little girl’s resurrection. And Jesus, rather than saying: ‘Praised be God!’, says to them: ‘Please, give her something to eat’. For Jesus always has the fine details in front of Him.

What I did with this Gospel is contemplative prayer: to pick up the Gospel, read and imagine myself in the scene, to imagine what’s happening and speak with Jesus about what comes from my heart. And with this, we allow hope to grow, because we have our eyes fixed on Jesus. pray in contemplation. And even if we have many commitments, we can always find the time, even 15 minutes at home:
Pick up the Gospel, a short passage, imagine what is happening and talk to Jesus about it. This way your eyes will be fixed on Jesus, and not so much on soap operas, for example: your ears will be fixed on the words of Jesus and not so much on the neighbours’ gossip.

Contemplative prayer helps us to hope and teaches us to live from the substance of the Gospel. And this is why we must always pray: say prayers, pray the rosary, speak with the Lord, but also carry out this contemplative prayer in order to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. From here comes hope. And also this way, our Christian life moves within that framework, between memory and hope: the memory of the entire past journey, the memory of so many graces received from the Lord; and hope, looking to the Lord, who is the only One who can give me hope. And to look to the Lord, to know the Lord, we pick up the Gospel and we pray in contemplation.

Today for example find 10 minutes, 15 minutes and no more: read the Gospel, imagine and speak with Jesus. And nothing more. And in this way, your knowledge of Jesus will be greater and your hope will grow. Don’t forget, keeping your eyes fixed on Jesus. This is why we call it “contemplative prayer”.