Soft Hearts

by Angela Batie Carlin

My, the readings feel dismal today. But, I suppose some people would call the life of the Church dismal these days. With each new news story – from parishes closing their doors to new clergy abuse scandals to the divisive topics of marriage equality and women’s inclusion, not to mention the looming new translation of the Missal, it seems that each new movement of the Church brings the faithful into greater opposition and polarization. The first reading’s “strife and clamorous discord” sound familiar.

That is why I find today’s readings actually encouraging. It gives perspective and context to our struggles today. While a different situation, the feelings are the same – violence, threat, and abandonment. There’s strange comfort in realizing that we are not the only era of discontent in which people have felt in crisis before. Yet, the people marched on and God did not forsake them.

It makes me look toward the future, too. If people have wrestled for centuries, I wonder how much longer we will long for peace (“Why must you let me see ruin; why must I look at misery?” pleads Habakkuk.) If not the division in our Church, then the true suffering of the vulnerable of our world surly must move our hearts. Do we truly hope and believe that things will change? Or are our cries a lament, as we look toward a final, distant horizon for true justice to prevail?

So, if our struggle is just another thread in the tapestry of people’s plights through the ages, how do we keep our hearts from hardening? How can we keep our hearts, well, soft? How do we notice the suffering, recognize that the end is probably not in sight, and still continue to make ourselves vulnerable? Others online here have discussed the question “why do I stay?” Some have left. For those who remain, how do we find life and nurture in the midst of pain and struggle?

It’s the work of the Spirit. As the psalmist instructs, “If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts.” God continues to call, and with that call comes the grace to respond instead of harden, to receive the blessings instead of the curse, to develop community and relationships instead of calluses. The second reading reminds us that we are to “bear our share of hardship for the gospel” but that we’ll have the “strength that comes from God” with which to do that. Strength to cultivate, against all logic, hearts of softness – strong, steadfast softness – as we grapple, wrestle, love, and grieve.

Angela Batie Carlin is a Campus Minister and a 2007 graduate of Yale Divinity School. She’s looking forward to the YDS convocation celebrating eight decades of women this month.

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