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By Father Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.

Your 'Heart' Indicates Your Treasure


What Does 'Heart' Mean Biblically?
Why Bother With Saints?
Who Is the Patron?
'What Should I Say?'
What Is the Liturgy of the Hours?

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 to symbolize?

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 similar—the 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?

Q: 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 promise.

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 Cincinnati (1-800-241-6392).

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. Include your street address for personal replies enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, please. Some answer material must be mailed since it is not available in digital form. You can still send questions to: Ask a Franciscan, 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202.

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