Today if you hear His voice, harden not your hearts. This verse from psalm 94 which is recited everyday at the beginning of Matins, takes on new significance during Passiontide. Our Holy Mother the Church, by making of this verse the invitatory during this holy season, seems to be wanting to evoke two sentiments in us.
First of all she calls us to conversion. The voice of the Lord is the voice of conscience which continues to speak aloud in our hearts even when we have the misfortune to turn our backs on God. Only repeated refusals to listen to conscience can cause one’s heart to be hardened like a rock, inaccessible to any influence. That is what the Lord was referring to in today’s Gospel when He says to the chief priests: He that is of God heareth the words of God. Therefore you hear them not, because you are not of God (Jn 8:47). That is to say, by your voluntary blindness of mind and hardness of heart you have made yourselves incapable of hearing the voice of God. St Gregory the Great in his homily on this text says that these words are truly terrible, and he invites the faithful to question themselves as to whether or not they hear the words of God, for in that way they will know from whom they are, that is, who they have sided with.
The voice of the Lord is also the voice of the Church herself who is the faithful guardian and teacher of the Divine Law. When she teaches authentically, presenting the Ten Commandments and all the moral norms that flow therefrom; when she reminds us of our duties to God, which always come first; when she invites us to take a stand against the culture of futility and death which surrounds us; when she calls to mind the sacred obligations of our baptism which call us to stand up for our faith in a senseless world — she is the voice of the Lord, ringing out over the ages and to the utter ends of the earth. If we hear that voice, let us not harden our hearts.
But the call to conversion and to fidelity is not the culmination of the path God wants us to tread. His voice is also the one which calls to service; the voice which draws us out of ourselves, out of our tiny world of petty hedonistic tendencies and into the world of helping and serving the needs of others. In family life, that voice is continually making an appeal to our generosity to put others first, and not seek one’s own interests, which is the supreme way for a family to stay together.
For those who have not yet made the choice of family life, that voice may be inviting them to stop “shopping around” in a fictitious world in which one has the illusion of freedom because one has no commitments, and to actually take the plunge, make a decision for life, in fidelity to one person and one family, and to achieve in that way true freedom. Paradoxically, it is only once you commit yourself for good that you become free, for a person who has never reached the point of committinghim/herself definitively has not succeeded in showing they are in full possession of their freedom, forauthentic freedom leads to making choices and sticking to them. It is also true that not until you have made such a decision can you give your full potential. If a man is interested in three young ladies, it is only once he has actually decided to ask the hand of one of them and settles down with her in marriage to found a family that he reaches his full potential and becomes fully free to unleash all the energies God has put in him to build a new family for the Church and the world.
Now, that voice of God which is heard in the depthsof the heart may also be calling to go further, to leave behind the natural attraction every man and woman has of entering into a lifelong relationship open to new life, and undertake the path of perpetual dedication to Divine Worship in virginity or celibacy. The call is open: “If you will be perfect”, says Our Lord to the young man in the Gospel. “If you will”. If only you will. If you have come to perceive the grandeur of the Person of Jesus and want to stake all you have on following Him in religious life, then by all means, harden not your heart! Let yourself be drawn into His intimacy, and trust that He will lead you with Him through the cross to the resurrection.
The second thought Holy Mother Church has by inviting us to pay more attention to this verse is this: it is essentially through His passion and death that the Lord Jesus makes his voice heard to us. That is, there is nothing in His life on earth which penetrates more deeply into our hearts with more power than any words, than the example He has given us of loving us so much, even to the point of death. So during these holy days, let us frequently turn the gaze of our souls to those final hours of Our Lord’s life, to all the tortures He endured, keeping in mind that we ourselves are the cause of His passion. He suffered for us, to atone for our sins, to open for us the gates of eternal life. Had He not come, had He refused to drink that bitter chalice, we would all be lost, everyone of us without exception: misery and death and hell would be our eternal lot. But Jesus Our Lord took the plunge; He did not turn His face from those who spat upon Him, nor His back from those who flogged Him; He did not draw back His sacred Hands when the executioners were hammering spikes into them to hang him on the tree like a despicable criminal. No, He accepted it all out of love for us.
My dear friends, if the Lord has loved us so much, can we not love Him, just a little, in return? Can we not offer Him some sacrifice this Passiontide? Can we not accept some humiliation, when we see Him crowned with thorns and slapped in the face by a wretched valet? Can we not go without our favourite dish or drink when we see Our Lord’s scorching thirst made even worse torment by a few drops of gall and vinegar? Can we not accept a bit of cold or heat without complaining? Are we not able to forgive someone who has hurt us when we see Our Saviour dying for those same people who were killing Him? And we could go on and on...
The passion of Jesus is the great book, the awesome voice of God speaking to us today. Let us open our hearts. Today if you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.