JUNE 11, 2009, ST. BARNABAS: MATTHEW 10: 7-13

 

JESUS SAID TO HIS DISCIPLES: “THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS AT HAND”. We are reminded on this feast of Saint Barnabas that this announcement is a summary of the message that the early Church, after receiving the Holy Spirit, commissioned Paul and Barnabas to preach to the nations, setting them apart, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles. This brief declaration of the presence of the kingdom is in essence an implicit Christology.  In commenting on the phrase in the Our Father “Thy kingdom come”, Pope Benedict XVI points out that ultimately the expression ‘the kingdom of God’ is code for the person of Christ himself.  As a metaphor this phrase has more than one layer of meaning.  The kingdom is equivalent, on the surface, to ‘the dominion of God’, and means that his will is taken as the norm for just living. The Holy Father adds that in order to apply God’s will to our life we must receive the gift that king Solomon prayed for: the gift of “a listening heart”(lev shomea, in the Hebrew text of 1K3:9) so that he might discern what is truly good for his people.

 

The need for the gift of a listening heart is a crucial insight for us in our times. We do well to seek to understand just what it entails and why it is essential for full human integrity. To what is the human heart intended to listen? What message is attuned to the heart’s hearing? Does the heart have a sense of hearing? In the scientific and technological culture of our own county and times, good judgment is rather associated not with the heart but with the reasoning intellect. Moreover, the proper and effective use of intelligence is thought to require a measure of technical formation, and for its fuller cultivation a rigorous scientific training. In our society the heart is not thought of as the instrument of understanding, but rather, it is feelings, affection, and various emotions that are the province of the heart. Consequently, moderns associate the dictates of the heart with subjectivity that is all too often out of touch with the hard realities that science reveals by its objective methods, and technical procedures and instruments.

There is a superficial plausibility in this manner of conceiving the knowledge and the nature of the human mind.[1] Increasingly, however, after the destruction wrought by the atom bomb and the continuing threat it posses to civilization, as well as the pollution resulting from large sectors of technological industry, the limitations of science and its kind of materialistic reason, the need for discernment of what constitutes progress for humans is more apparent. Discerning the proper limits of technology has become a major issue not only in the spiritual and ethical domains but also in politics and science itself. For example, is it in the true interest of people that scientists be permitted to experiment with producing human clones?  How would a human clone affect the very concept of the nature of a human person? Values and choices must guide reason and its applications if advances are to represent real progress and not result in threats to humanity itself.

 

Jesus cited an ancient prophet when he commented on the lack of receptivity of the new values and the concept of the human person contained in his preaching. Isaiah had already noted, some 700 years before the birth of our Lord that there is need of spiritual senses in order properly to discern what is the true good in human life. Real progress is not accessible to reason alone in human affairs: “The heart of this people has become coarse, their ears are hard of hearing” so that they do not understand with the heart. As a result, he adds, they are not healed by me. (Mt 13:15) 

 

The heart is fashioned in essential measure by spiritual listening to the voice of God and the inspired words of  such apostles as Barnabas and Paul. But for the functioning of this sense we must cultivate such a heart as is capable of hearing his message. Solomon who understood this also realized it can come only as a gift, but as a gift that we must desire. To listen with the ear of the heart is to strive to remove all those selfish dispositions that dull our inner senses. This is the true work of the monk and indeed of every Christian who would be a follower of the Lord Jesus. Jesus, according to Matthew’s account, not long before had thanked his heavenly Father for having revealed the hidden mysteries of the kingdom, not to those who trusted in learning and natural intelligence, but rather to those little one who had learned to put their trust in God. Today he tells us to join with them in accepting him by learning to listen to his words with the hearing of our heart. &


Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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[1] Ever since Descartes pronounced the act of thinking alone as providing the basis for certitude of personal existence, reasoning has been associated with thought as contrasted with heart.  That there is a split between the inner self and the outer world has been largely taken for granted in large sectors of life. Modern science developed under the canopy of such a split, and its successes are considered by many to be proofs of the validity of such a conception. Most recently this way of thought has arrived at the conclusion that the sense of a transcendent self and its attendant freedom is a delusion that results from the intricacies of molecular functions. Consciousness is nothing but the epiphenomenon of physical-chemical functions.