What Does 'Heart' Mean Biblically?
Q: I keep running into the
word heart in the Bible and have become curious about
this term. It seems to me that it is the Bible's most-used
noun after God, Lord and love. The
greatest commandment [Matthew 22:37, Mark 12:30 and Luke
10:27] refers to it.
Although I have taken this for granted in the past,
I seriously do not think this term means the cardiovascular
heart that pumps blood throughout a person's body. Feelings,
intentions, thought and behavior do not derive from it.
I also see some passages that speak of God as having a heart.
What does Jesus mean when he uses the word heart?
If this word is purely symbolic, what exactly is it supposed
A: In biblical terminology, heart is the
center of a person, the basis for his or her thoughts and
actions. Father John L. McKenzie writes in his Dictionary
of the Bible (Simon and Schuster), "Psychic activity
is usually associated in the Bible with various organs of
the body. The chief of these and the organ most frequently
mentioned is the heart. The ancients were unaware of the
circulation of the blood and the physiological functions
of the heart; but its emotional reaction is easily recognized,
and the heart is the chief bodily focus of emotional activity."
The Bible also sees the heart as the seat of human intelligence.
King Solomon prayed for an understanding heart (1 Kings
3:9); sinners are often said to have hard hearts (Jeremiah
7:24). God's law will be written on the hearts of those
who repent (Jeremiah 31:33).
When the word heart is applied to God, it means
something very similarthe center of what it means
to be God. It is not in God's heart, for example, to be
unjust or to be indifferent to good and evil. It is in God's
heart to love all creation, to forgive and to fulfill the
Bible's other affirmations about God.
Why Bother With Saints?
I am a Protestant who has some very good friends who are Catholics. I would like to know why Catholics pray to the Virgin Mary, the saints and the angels. Why not go straight to our Lord Jesus Christ for all your needs? I would really like to understand this Catholic practice.
A: Your query is a reminder that praying to Mary,
the saints and angels can sound like trying to get "friends
in high places" to run interference for you. Although people
sometimes seek such "friends" in order to get a speeding
ticket fixed, buy merchandise at a lower price or have some
problem resolved, for Catholics that is not what devotion
to the saints represents.
God alone is the source of all grace and blessing. Saints
do not "fix" things for us apart from God or convince God
to do X rather than Y. At Vatican II, the bishops taught
that the holiness of the Church "is shown constantly in
the fruits of grace which the Spirit produces in the faithful
and so it must be" (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church,
#39). Those "fruits of grace" are seen in the lives of saintly
disciples, whether canonized or not.
Saints remind us of the communion of saints, the
belief that we are all called to holiness, to share life
with God. Saints and angels used their freedom wisely and
inspire us to do the same. They are holy because they cooperated
with the grace of God, wherever that led. Saints help us
by encouraging us to respond as generously as they did.
Jesus, fully divine and fully human, as a human being could
be only one gender, live at one time in history, grow up
in one human culture, etc. Saints help us to see holiness
as possible for ourselves because saints include men and
women, married and single people who lived at various times
in human history and in various cultures. Saints remind
us that, no matter what sacrifices we may need to make in
order to cooperate with God's grace, we are not the first
people to make those sacrifices.
One of the Mass prayers for the feast day of saints says,
"This great company of witnesses spurs us on to victory,
to share their prize of everlasting glory, through Jesus
Christ our Lord."
If we ask our friends on earth to pray for us, why not
ask our friends in heaven to do the same?
The Catholic Church has formally recognized approximately
11,000 saints. The Feast of All Saints (November 1) honors
all the many other saints.
Who Is the Patron?
Q: Is there a patron saint
for physical therapists? Where can I find patron saints
for other occupations?
A: A friend of mine, a Franciscan sister and a retired
physical therapist, tells me that St. Germaine Cousin of
Pibrac, France, is the patron of physical therapists. Germaine
was crippled from her birth (1579) and had a terrible life
physically but a beautiful life spiritually. Her feast day
is June 15.
There are lists of patron saints for
occupations in Patron Saints, by Michael Freeze,
S.F.O. (Our Sunday Visitor) and in Saints Preserve Us!,
Sean Kelly and Rosemary Rogers (Random House). Ordinary
Suffering of Extraordinary Saints, by Vincent O'Malley,
C.M. (Our Sunday Visitor) has saints for occupations and
many other situations in life.
'What Should I Say?'
Q: I am offended by people I meet, hairdressers,
store clerks, etc., who tell me about their live-in boyfriends.
I am tempted to say, "If you choose to live in sin, please
have enough dignity to keep quiet about it."
I know I am not to judge others, but I would like to
know how to respond when these conversations start.
A: You could express your doubts that cohabiting
really works as a preparation for marriage. You could point
out that, if that relationship breaks up, the woman tends
to be hurt more often than the man. According to one study,
about 70 percent of live-in relationships end on the woman's
initiative. Even if the cohabiting continues, the legal
status of the man and woman is unclear.
None of this will stop people from telling you about their
living arrangements, perhaps even boasting about them. Sooner
or later you will probably develop a way of responding that
satisfies you, yet shows respect for people even when you
do not agree with their decisions.
You can argue against cohabitation in terms of the Ten
Commandments, but the people now eagerly sharing this information
with you may ignore that. One approach that might get their
attention is to say that these relationships usually have
far more problems than those involved will admit. That may
explain why divorce rates among couples who live together
before marriage are higher than for couples who live together
only after the wedding.
The Ten Commandments are distilled moral wisdom; they reflect
a great deal of divine and human experience. Sometimes people
realize how true they are only after they discover that
shortcuts around these commandments never deliver what they
What Is the Liturgy of the Hours?
Q: My wife and I would like to find out more about the "Liturgy of the Hours." If you can suggest a book, Web site or other resource to help us understand this form of prayer, we will be very grateful. Not long ago our diocesan paper
carried a story about how the pope has urged laypeople to pray the Liturgy of the Hours.
A: This Web site offers several helpful articles
to explain this practice.
The Liturgy of the Hours (also called the Divine Office)
was developed by monks as a way to "sanctify the day" by
praying at set times. The two "hinges" of the Liturgy of
the Hours are Morning Prayer (Lauds, prayed at daybreak
or close to it) and Evening Prayer (Vespers, prayed at dusk
or close to it). The other "hours" are Office of Readings,
Midday Prayer and Night Prayer. These are often printed
in four volumes, arranged seasonally.
Morning and Evening Prayer, plus selections from the other
hours, are available in two editions with the same title,
Christian Prayer (Daughters of St. Paul and Catholic
Book Publishing Company). There is a large-print edition
from the second publisher. Morning and Evening Prayer only
are found in Shorter Christian Prayer (Catholic Book
Publishing Company). They can be ordered from your nearest
Catholic bookstore or from St. Francis Bookshop here in
The Liturgy of the Hours introduces people to the Psalms,
which reflect the full range of human emotions. Almost all
of the 150 psalms are prayed over a four-week cycle. The
intercessions in the Liturgy of the Hours help people see
themselves as part of a worldwide Church.
If you have a question for Father Pat, please submit it here.
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