Pruning Our Hearts
by the Reverend Noel E. Bordador
"Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
This then, is how you should pray: "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one."
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you."
A true story. An elderly monk prayed to Christ, and lamented: “Long time ago, when I was young, I left my mother and father, my brothers and sisters, I left my homeland, I gave up the prospect of marrying and having a family of my own in order to come to this monastery to seek you, O God. And all these years I struggled against that part of me that is most unloving and unkind. And now, I am old, I am grey headed, I am stooped and my eyes sunk because of advanced age, and yet, despite of my attempts to struggle against my passions, I feel I have only advanced a little in my spiritual life- I still have unkindness in me, I still feel vestiges of selfishness in my heart and soul. So what is the use of even trying anymore? If I stop trying hard, wouldn’t you still have mercy on me? Isn’t it true that you also show mercy on those who led evil lives but suddenly called on you? Then the Lord appeared to the monk, saying: “Yes, it is true that I show mercy on both good and evil people alike. For it is my nature to be merciful towards all. Yes, to the evil ones who call on me, I shall show pity. BUT to those who make every effort to wage a war against all unlovingness, all deceit and selfishness they find in their souls, they alone are my friends.” (par. from Archimandrite Sophrony Sakharov, St. Silhouan the Athonite)
We not only desire pity, but we strive for a life of deep intimate friendship with God. But on our side we cultivate this friendship by putting off from our lives those things that make us mean, cruel, dishonest, selfish and unloving. Lent is an intense period of cultivating friendship not only by prayers but also a deliberate and intentional weeding out, pruning off those things in us that choke our friendship with God. As the Gospel today says, prayer and attendance of divine worship are not enough. Look at the hypocrites the Lord referred to. They loved to pray and fast but their hearts were filled with unlovingness. They had not done the work of letting go of the meanness and injustice of their hearts. This process of pruning is not just confined to these forty days. Like the monk in the story, life is a perpetual Lent, by which we must guard our hearts and souls from things that seek to destroy the purity of our union and friendship with God.
©2017 Noel E. Bordador
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