Today’s readings take speech very seriously. They assume that there is a correspondence or that there ought to be a correspondence between what the mouth speaks and what’s in the heart. I noted yesterday that speech, even in some ancient versions of the Book of Sirach, is one of the things that makes us like God. God speaks, and so do we.
In God, of course, there is a perfect correspondence between heart, between His interior life as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and His speech. God, we believe, in His infinite eternity has one perennial, perfect, constant thought that satisfies and fulfills his infinite mind: His own self-image, His own perfect Idea. That Idea is His only-begotten Son.
This Idea is everything that He is and everything that He knows—not only what is but what could be. In this one Idea by which He knows you and me, He knows every leaf of every tree, every goose flying south, and every electron. In this one Idea is His perfection, His justice, His mercy, His love. Everything is in this one Idea—what is, what will be, what could have been, and what could be. And it’s this Idea, this perfect Idea which is the very heart of the Father. This Idea is the Word incarnate in our Lord Jesus Christ.
That means that everything that our Lord is, everything that He does, everything that He says, corresponds to and manifests the heart of God—the perfection, the justice, the mercy, the love (and so much more). From the fullness of the heart, the mouth speaks.
Speech is not so perfect with us, not so pure. Obviously. It’s because (speaking of the fruit of trees) our first parents Adam and Eve reached out to take the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Grasping at godliness, they found the fruit bitter as it fundamentally introduced a disparity or a concupiscence between heart and mouth.
It’s easy to lie. Even worse, our heart is itself divided. We are easily filled with desires—carnal desires, desires of weakness, desires of pride—that are contrary to the desires of faith and the desires of grace. St Paul’s famous phrase, “I do not do the good I want to do but I do the very evil that I hate” comes to mind here. Our desires, what’s dominating our heart, comes out in our speech, comes out in our action. The mouth speaks from the store of our soul.
Sirach is right: Praise no one before he speaks, for it is then that people are tested. Saint Cyril of Alexandria once noted, “It is ignorance and folly for us to find the choicer fruits on thorns…. So it is ridiculous for us to imagine that we can find in hypocrites and the profane anything that is admirable, such as virtue.” Who we are comes out in our speech and in our deeds. The choicest fruits cannot grow in the shallow of sin thus the Lord always encourages us to set out into the deep, to make of our souls rich soil where grace can take deep root.
As long as the desires of sin reign, as long we harbor attachments, as long as we live in this life and struggle against concupiscence, the spirit (the heart) will struggle against the flesh. The words we speak and the things we do will only be authentically good, true, and beautiful when our hearts are good, true, and beautiful.
This is precisely why there is yet another tree—a tree that bears good fruit—planted on the hill of Calvary: the tree of the Cross from which flows the fruit of water and blood. This is the tree by which we are saved, and by which death is swallowed up in victory. Death is killed and is no longer a threat to me or you.
The corruptibility of the flesh and our desires are clothed with incorruptibility. The more we cling to the Cross, the more we are clothed with incorruptibility, the more we become who we were created to be. The sickness under which we live clouds our desires. The sickness of sin is the sickness unto death that the tree of Cross comes to heal. By the grace of the Cross, we are once again made healthy.
When we’re sick we desire all sorts of things that we don’t desire when we’re healthy. Every sickness takes over our life and impedes our desire. The sickness of sin is all the worse because it hardens our heart and slurs our speech. St. Augustine puts it this way: “There are many desires of the sick which health takes away. In just the same way as physical health undercuts those desires, so immortality removes all other desires because immortality is our health.”
We were made to be immortal. It’s the condition in which we were created. That’s the health we were given and which was lost—the health of grace. We were never meant to exist without grace; we were never meant to exist without God. We were never meant to exist with such disharmony, such interior conflict. We were always meant to live uprightly and coherently. It was always meant for our words to manifest hearts graced with the goodness and mercy of God.
This life, and especially the life of the cloistered nun, is a life intent on recovering that health by the grace of God in spite of all odds and human frailty. The words, the actions of Christ, His ministry, His mercy—all of these show us the heart of God. It turns out that the heart of God is all about our purification, our sanctity, and ultimately about bringing us to share in his life and divinity.
He wants to make our heart like His own.
This homily for the Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time was delivered at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary in Buffalo, NY on March 3, 2019