Day 38: The Warmth or Violence of the Human Heart

BY IAN PEOPLES, S.J. | March 22nd, 2024
Today’s readings

In today’s first reading, the Prophet Jeremiah writes, “I hear the whisperings of many: “Terror on every side! Denounce! Let us denounce him! [Perhaps] he will be trapped; then we can prevail, and take our vengeance on him.” He knows the violence hidden within the hearts of the people around him. It’s the same violence hidden within the hearts of people today, mine and yours included.

I feel it in my heart when I encounter someone or something I don’t understand. If I let that violence lead my thoughts and actions, then I become very much like the people in today’s gospel. They don’t understand Jesus’s words and actions. Rather than asking questions, they pick up stones with which to stone our Lord. 

I’ve witnessed the destructive violence of the human heart in other people and places, too. 

For three years, I worked as a prison chaplain to incarcerated youth at Wagner’s Youth Facility (WYF) at Belize Central Prison. Virtually every teenager at WYF was from the South Side of Belize City, a place notorious for gangs. Every one of them had lost a family member or friend to gang violence. They were born into a place where the violence of the human heart shed actual blood. Their shared experience was a radical solidarity of suffering, but they never bothered to ask one another about it. Instead, they promised each other bullets with the other’s name on them.

When we kill our curiosity for the person before us, it becomes easier to dismiss them (or, tragically, even kill them). Pope Francis said, “[To] dialogue, it is necessary to know how to lower the defenses, open the doors of the house, and offer human warmth.” The best way I knew how to minister to young men at war with each other was to lower my defenses in hopes of offering the human worth they desperately needed. 

Offering human warmth is at the heart of the beatitudes (Mt 5:1-11), which is the roadmap to refreshing our hearts in this time of Lent. How will you offer human warmth to somebody today?

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