Over the past several generations we have witnessed tremendous advances in our knowledge of the human body and in the medicine and technology used to sustain it. Significant attention has been given to the heart, the central organ that contributes to the function of every other part of our physical existence. As we are learning, the health of the heart is important to our bodily well-being and quality of life. We are advised by physicians to attend to this, giving careful attention to what we eat, frequency of exercise, and even genetic predispositions.
Certainly, it is very important to attend to the health of the heart, recognizing that the human body is an amazing creation of God. But it is also critical in our relationship to our Creator to attend to the spiritual renewal of the “heart.” When we examine the Holy Scriptures, we find numerous references to the “heart,” not as a physical organ but as the center of our innermost being and personal life. It is the seat of our motives and passions. It is also understood as the place of origin of things good, such as love, faith, and joy; and things that are bad, such as hatred, unbelief, and despair.
The challenge of tending to the heart and directing it toward salvation is expressed in a passage of Scripture used frequently in the services of the Church. From Psalm 50 we hear and recite, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me" (50:10). The petition for cleansing and renewal emphasizes that our response to God’s love is one of repentance, of seeking to be made holy as He is holy, through His forgiveness and the purification of the heart.
Renewal of the heart is also possible through our response of love to the One who has created and saved us in love. Christ stated that the greatest commandment is to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind" (Matthew 22:37). When our heart is filled with the love of God, a love that is returned to Him through worship and faithfulness, our lives are changed in so many ways. Sin is forgiven, and our hearts partake of the life and joy that only God can give. Further, through God’s love, His peace rules in our hearts (Colossians 3:15). This is a state of living and being that overcomes our greatest fears and weaknesses. When the heart is renewed, we are illumined and transformed. Our orientation in life, our goals, aspirations, attitudes, and emotional disposition are affected because He "has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of His glory" (II Corinthians 4:6). Our innermost being is directed toward the purpose of our creation, to true communion with God and a restoration of His image and likeness within us.
When our hearts are being cleansed, illumined, and renewed, we are witnesses of the love of God and of His power. Let us not neglect our hearts. As good stewards of our physical bodies, it is important to attend to the precious organ of the heart. But it is also essential that we affirm the orientation of our inner being. Jesus said, "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:20). Renewal of the heart directs our lives toward God and heaven. In Him we will find what is true and eternal, and in Him our hearts will rejoice and live forever.
Archbishop of America