Reflecting on the hardness of heart which led to the death of Saint Stephen (Acts 7: 64-60), Pope Francis during his morning homily on 2nd May 2017 at Casa Santa Maria said that moralists without empathy are unable to see how God transforms “hearts of stone” into real hearts of flesh. “The closed hearts, the hearts of stone, the hearts which do not want to be open, do not want to hear, the hearts which only know the language of condemnation cause suffering in the Church”.
The temple authorities who stoned St. Stephen are, according to Pope Francis, “those who condemn all those who are outside the law”. Stephen had called them “uncircumcised of heart” because they lacked an ability to understand the word of God.
Referring to the apostles on the way from Jerusalem to Emmaus, whom Jesus called foolish (Lk 24:25), Pope Francis said that although they were blinded by misunderstanding and fear, they were capable of hearing the truth and being corrected. “When Jesus rebuked them, they let his words enter them and their hearts burned within them, while those who stoned Stephen were furious and did not want to listen!”
Recalling God’s ‘beautiful promise’ to the Prophet Ezekiel: “I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you; I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart” (Ez 11:19-20), the Pope said that a tender and responsive heart accepts corrections and is ready to respond positively. Closed hearts, however, are not able to listen; they only know how to condemn and to question and are unable to handle Christ’s words of rebuke. These are the hearts which led to the deaths of Saint Stephen and the prophets in the Old Testament. Comparing them to Stephen Pope Francis said that “There was no place in their hearts for the Holy Spirit”. Stephen on the other hand was filled with the Holy Spirit. He had understood everything, he was a witness to the obedience of the word made flesh, and this was done by the Holy Spirit.
Reflecting on the Gospel passage where the Pharisees propose to stone the woman caught in adultery (Jn 8:3-11), the Pope said that we must look inside ourselves to see how hypocritical we are. “We look at the tenderness of Jesus, the witness of obedience, that great witness, Jesus, who has given life, which makes us look for the tenderness of God, confronting us, our sins, our weaknesses”.
Pope Francis said that the fear, misunderstanding and foolishness of the apostles on the way to Emmaus represent us with our many doubts, many sins. However, when tempted to pull away from sufferings, we should look up to heaven as Stephen did and listen the words of Jesus, who says: “Be not afraid, I am with you”. He will make our hearts burn.
The Pope urged the faithful to pray for the grace of the Lord which softens the rigid hearts of those people who are always closed in the law and condemn all who are outside the law.
Fr James Mundackal CST