- Maria Greco
A Broken & Contrite Heart
Updated: Mar 8, 2021
"For You take no delight in sacrifice; were I to give a burnt offering, You would not be pleased. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God You will not despise."
The call to repentance and conversion is the unyielding message throughout Holy Scripture. From the Old Testament to the New Testament, it is the same message of repentance and of turning back to God. In the Gospel of Luke, Our Lord speaks of the tax collector who confesses his sinfulness and is justified; whereas the pharisee who thinks that he can be justified by his righteousness is the one who is humbled. The fact is this: we are sinners and one can only be made righteous by acknowledging one's sinfulness, confessing our sins in Reconciliation and then through the grace and love of God striving to attain holiness.
During the Lenten season, it is encouraged to fast from certain foods or habits that are vices. One person gives up sweets where another gives up watching television. This is all important and self-denial must be practiced to become holy. As St. Theophan the recluse states "where there is no prayer and fasting, there are the demons." However, if one thinks that the external practices are what is praiseworthy or justifiable, they are deeply mistaken. The external practices of penance should be from an interior change.
In the Gospel of Matthew, St. John the Baptist exhorted the pharisees with these words "bear fruit that befits repentance"; that is to bear fruit that results from conversion of heart. Good works produced from an unrepentant heart are in vain. Good works produced not out of love for Jesus Christ are in vain. Good works produced from "a broken and contrite heart O God, You will not despise"; good works that flow from a pure and humbled heart are pleasing to the Lord God and those are not in vain. As Jesus states in the Gospel of Matthew, "and whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because he is a disciple, amen I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward." Even the smallest work done out of love for God does not go unnoticed nor does it go unrewarded. We serve an unfathomably merciful and generous God.
In the book of Isaiah, the Lord tells His people that He does not desire their sacrifices and that they are in fact displeasing to Him. God tells them that their offerings are useless and He finds no pleasure in them. Why is this? Are not we called to offer sacrifice and offerings to God? Because despite the fact that the Israelites were offering sacrifice and oblations, they were living sinful lives. They had apostatized the living God and were living corruptly, despising the commands of the Lord God and spurning the Holy One of Israel. Do we offer sacrifice to God while gossip and speak negatively about our neighbor? Do we offer sacrifice to God while we withhold charity out of unforgiveness? Do we offer sacrifice to God while we judge and condemn others? So you see, the Lord demands mercy, not sacrifice.
Rather, this is what He demands of His people "wash yourselves clean! Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes; cease doing evil; learn to do good. Make justice your aim: redress the wronged, hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow. Come now, let us set things right, says the Lord." The Lord desires mercy. The Lord desires conversion. "I desire mercy not sacrifice." The footsteps of Jesus Christ are the footsteps of love and we are called to walk in them. The life of Jesus embodies completely the model for all Christian living and in His life, you will find every answer. As we continue to journey with Our Beloved through the wilderness, may our fasting and penance never be the end all be all, but rather fruits from a broken and contrite heart.
"Fasting cleanses the soul, raises the mind, subjects ones flesh to the spirit, renders the heart contrite and humble, scatters the clouds of concupiscence, quenches the fire of lust, and kindles the true light of chastity. Enter again into yourself."
St. Theophan, pray for us.