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Spiritual Life

Scripture Reflections: Rend your hearts this Lent

“Even now says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord your God” (Joel 2:12-13).

Even now, in the year 2022. Even now, two years after the pandemic that uprooted the world started. Even now, the Lord calls us to a radical conversion of heart. Over these last two years, our hearts have grown hard, cynical, and filled with hatred for one another. The Lord looks on us, not with a look of condemnation but of mercy and says: “Rend your hearts!”

I want to focus on those three words to focus our observance of Lent – rend your hearts. Rend is defined as “to split or tear apart or in pieces by violence.” The image of rending garments was an act of anger and grief among the Jewish people. The first instance we see of this in Scripture is when Rueben, the brother of Joseph, tears his garments after learning that his brothers had sold Joseph into slavery (Gen 37:29). After Job loses all his property and his children, he rends his garments and says the words “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).

This event in Job gives us a perfect illustration of why we rend our hearts; to remove what is not from the Lord, opening our hearts to Him and to bless the Lord. With our hearts rent we stand uncovered before the Lord. No excuses, no pretense, nothing to guard us from his grace. The Lord in this moment has access to everything. My thoughts, my feelings, the deepest desires of my heart, both virtuous and ugly. Admittedly, this is an extremely uncomfortable place for us as sinners to be.

This is where we experience the mercy of Jesus and the grace of conversion, when we know that he sees everything, knows everything, and still loves us. The woman at the well (John 4:1-42) has this experience. Jesus walks with her in this process, but slowly her heart is opened before him. She ends up proclaiming Him with the words: “Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Messiah?” (John 4:29).

Look at this event in the light of today’s so-called “cancel culture.” Imagine someone telling you “everything you had ever done.” This is a horrifying prospect. Yet, before the merciful Lord, when we stand before him, look at the freedom! With her heart rent, it is not clothed by the hardness of the world and the lies of power but instead with perfect humility to receive mercy.

This is our focus with Lent – all the fasting, the abstinence from meat, the extra prayers, and the works of mercy we take on during Lent. If we do them as a type of ego boost or self-improvement, they do not fulfill the purpose of Lent. However, if we do all of this with the attitude of rending our hearts before the Lord, we can come before Him with our hearts vulnerable and open to receive His loving mercy and grace.

Have a blessed Lent!

Father Joseph Sund is associate pastor of St. Patrick Parish in O’Neill, St. Joseph Parish in Amelia, St. Joseph Parish in Atkinson, St. Boniface Parish in Stuart and Sacred Heart Parish in Boyd County. He is also campus minister at St. Mary School in O’Neill.