In this week's Gospel Jesus says to the chief priests and elders of the people, "Tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of heaven before you" (Matthew 21.31).
This was a shocking thing to say to the devout religious people of his day. Imagine Jesus telling these leaders that the people they considered the dregs of society were getting into the kingdom of heaven before them.
The trouble is that it is easy to serve God outwardly without an authentic change of heart. God wants a response from us that is radical and not merely going through the motions.
The Scriptures call this type of conversion "a new heart" (Ezekiel 36.26).
Scripture is always pointing us to this new heart. A deep conversion that renews our inmost being and gives us the ability to see and respond to God and others in a new way.
The Lord wants to give the Church a new heart. A heart like his. A heart of burning love, deep compassion and infinite mercy.
I think all of us can see both within us and around us this is the real need today. We need the Sacred Heart of Jesus living in us in a new and profound way.
We need spiritual fire to fulfill Pope John XXIII's call for a new Pentecost throughout the world.
"Come Holy Spirit renew in our time your wonders as a New Pentecost." Words are not enough. Programs and plans are not enough. Discussions and dialogue are not enough. Apologies are not enough.
These things are good but they simply are not enough. The need for renewal and restoration is the core issue in the Christian world today.
The only thing that will fully answer the desperate needs of our time is personal and corporate conversion. A new heart. The light cannot shine if the fire does not burn within.
I recently met a priest from Ireland who was speaking at our parish. He said the hostility against the Church in Ireland is bordering on violence. He told us that this was the darkest period in the history of the Church of Ireland.
I was saddened of the growing tendency for people to blame the entire Church for the faults of some of our deeply misguided members.
Ireland is not alone. Only between 10 and 15 per cent of Catholics practise the
faith in a meaningful way. Other denominations are seeing a similar
trend. Millions are drifting in a growing tide of secular humanism, hedonism and New Age philosophies that are sweeping the world.
Where is Jesus in the midst of this crisis we face? He is standing before us offering us his own heart. A heart that shines like the sun. A heart that can renew Christianity and set this world aflame.
A heart that is a profound sign of the eternal saving love that is offered to every man, women, and child on the planet.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (n. 478) says, "Jesus knew and loved each of us and all during his life, his agony, and his Passion and gave himself up for each one of us.
"He has loved us all with a human heart. For this reason, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, pierced for our sins and for our salvation, is rightly considered the chief sign and symbol of that love with which the divine Redeemer continually loves the eternal Father and all human beings without exception."
When the Church calls the heart of Jesus the "chief sign and symbol" of God's love we should sit up and take real notice. The heart of Jesus points us to the most profound calling imaginable. A call to burn with the fire of love. A call to be consumed in love. A call to love God and all humanity without limits, without barriers and without exception.
Imagine the Church with the heart of Jesus truly burning in us all. Our bishops, our priests, sisters, our families, our parishes. I believe this fire in our midst would spread to all of the Christian world. There is no doubt that in this cold world real spiritual fire is the most attractive force imaginable.
This is what Blessed John Paul ll was pointing us to when he said, "Look with confidence to the Sacred Heart of Jesus." He knew that if we would meditate and pray with the heart of Jesus then we find true fire, renewal and conversion. For as St. Augustine said, "Whatever we contemplate we become."
So as we we read and meditate on Sunday's readings, let us listen deeply. It is the heart of Jesus calling us to authentic, ongoing conversion. Jesus who says, "Learn from me. I am gentle and humble of heart." (Matthew 11.28)
May the ancient prayer be taken up again with a renewed understanding: Jesus meek and humble of heart. Make our hearts like unto thine. The kingdom of heaven is open to all when we allow Jesus to give us a new heart.
(For more on the heart of Jesus, go to www.GodsRevolutionToday.com and click on the Internet Radio button.)
(John Connelly: firstname.lastname@example.org)