The longest journey in life: from head to heart; from untruth to truth

Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Myanmar

Homily of Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon for Sunday, August 29, 2021

First ReadingDeut. 4:1-2,6-8 “There is no people as wise and as intelligent as this great nation” And is there a nation as great as ours…”

Second ReadingJames 1: 17-18, 21b – 22, 27 Be doers of the Word and not just hearers.

Gospel: Mark 7:1-8, 14-15,21-23 The one that matters most is the transformation of the heart.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In the name of the living, loving and liberating name of Jesus, all greetings. We utter the name of Jesus every second, to protect us from all great challenges, to be grateful for the providence so far. We continue to pray that Jesus may be the healer for our people.

Dark clouds of the pandemic has been slightly merciful as the case load decreases. This nation needs the protective hand of God. But the other pandemics continue, spread by selfish virus of selfish people. Let us not lower our guards, not lessen our implorations for Divine intervention.

Today’s readings take us to  a deeper reflection at a personal, family and national levels: 

  • Are we moved by the heart or by the mind? The journey between head and heart.
  • Do our words become flesh through real actions?
  • Can laws and canons replace the greatest commandment: Love

The readings speak of human struggle for authenticity amidst the spiraling wave of duplicity.

The context of our reflection is clear: Challenges continue in our lives. 18 months of COVID, loss of lives, loss of livelihood. 7 months of civil strife, disappointment, deaths and despair. The litany of natural and man-made disasters frustratingly extend a long night of silent tears to my dear people.

Amidst these darkness, today’s readings light a candle of hope.  

How consoling to read from the First reading of today, these embalming words from the book of Deuteronomy as if they are addressed directly to the people of Myanmar:

There is no people as wise and as intelligent as this great nation” And is there a nation as great as ours…”

Yes. Undoubtedly Myanmar is a golden land. Not because of its great resources. But because of its great human resources. Their wealth is our people’s culture, spirituality and their great qualities. Myanmar people are wise and intelligent, as the Book of Deuteronomy says. They know it is the not the jade wealth, not the stolen wealth that makes them to sleep at peace at night; armed with personal morality and generosity, our people can be at peace with themselves. That is  their wisdom.

No amount of oppression and suffering could rob our people of their smile, their grace, their grit and their generosity. That is intelligence, that is wisdom: the ability to smile amidst all tears. The Bible records the Pharaohs of history have no record of smile. A life without tears and smiles robs of all humanity. Here our people know the essentials.  Deuteronomy is right: our people have the wisdom and intelligence.

The next two readings guide us towards the future: Our  journey is towards greater authenticity in personal life and life of the nation. That  journey needs to be taken. Every human being is called upon to take the journey from head to heart. The problem we face in Myanmar today is  between the head and the heart. Laws vs the Love among the people. This is the conflict in life: ideas, laws, regulations and concepts in the  head. Head as the metaphor of ideas and laws. The deaths and despair of the last seven months are based on the laws and regulations of the head. It is pitted against the people’s heart as the metaphor of Love.  

This is the conflict Jesus faces in the Gospel today.  

The pharisees as the “guardians” of the mosaic law contested the disciples for not following it. The Old Testament has many laws: The most well-known of these laws are the Ten Commandments, but the Torah contains a total of 613 commandments or mitzvah covering many aspects of daily life, including family, personal hygiene and diet. All of us affirm these laws are holy and meant to build the people of Israel as the chosen race. 

But later some abused these laws. The spirit of the law was lost but the letter stayed. For example, in today’s Gospel, the pharisees are contesting the disciples for eating without washing the hand. No worry about the hunger of the disciple, or their lack of access to regular food!

Jesus enters into the argument: What is essential in human life? The laws? Or Love? The head or the heart? Jesus is not against the Law. He speaks of his coming to “fulfil the law” (“Do not think that I have come to abolish Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them.” Mt 5:17) He even acknowledges elsewhere the Pharisees are good in the law and even righteous.

But he is candid clear: For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Go beyond the law into love: move from the legalistic, law-oriented mind towards love oriented heart. Mind is the workshop of lots of Good. But in the Gospel today, Jesus points out, defilement comes directly from the mind, more harmful than the unwashed hands.

According to him the following evils come from the mind:

  • evil thoughts
  • unchastity
  • theft
  • murder
  • adultery
  • greed
  • malice
  • deceit
  • licentiousness
  • envy
  • blasphemy
  • arrogance
  • folly

All these things come from within and they defile.

St Paul provides the antidote to these: love that comes from the heart has so many great gifts.

  • love is kind
  • love is patient
  • love does not envy
  • does not boast
  • not proud
  • Does not dishonor others
  • not self-seeking
  • not easily angered
  • keeps no record of wrongdoings
  • does not delight in evil but rejoices in truth
  • always trusts
  • always hopes
  • always preserves

Now the three remain; Faith, hope and Love. But greatest of these is love.

The pharisees followed the law and commandments as the way to honor Yahweh; Jesus recast them as the “radical demand – not command – of love.” From head to heart and both. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt 22:37). For our Savior, loving God includes using our intellects to the best of our ability for his glory. Achieving what we think with what we do, what we say and what we practice in life is to bring harmony with head and heart.

That is a lifelong challenge.

The journey from head, full of concepts, laws, ideas into the heart that is full of love. They say the distance between the head and the heart is only 18 inches. But the journey between them takes the whole life. Authenticity is achieved when there is harmony between the head and the heart. A journey from the Pharisees to the disciples of Jesus. From oppressive governments to the Kingdom of God. It is a life time journey.

This long march to authenticity is achieved only when we learn to move from untruth to truth. Jesus who said we must love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us and also said we must forgive  seventy times seven is merciless in his attack of  Pharisees. Why?

In Matthew 23:13-36 we find some of the fieriest words ever spoken by Jesus what is called “The Seven Woes.” The seven woes are judgements against the so-called leaders of the time who failed in their leadership roles and responsibilities. Seven times he curses them with strong words:

He said seven times: Woe to you, teachers of Law, Pharisees and hypocrites.
He called them: Whitewashed sepulchres.
He called them: You snakes! You brood of vipers

Jesus seemed not to be patient even one time. Reason: Hypocrisy. Living with a Lie.
Jesus does not like people who live a double life, a life of lie.
A deceitful unauthentic life. He foresees their end: How will you escape being condemned to hell?

In the second reading, James warns us: Having ideas and reading the Word is commendable. But more commendable is to be “doers” of the word. No dichotomy between head and heart. 

The Bible is full of warnings about living a double life, and we’re told over and over again that we must practice what we preach. If people are to see Jesus in us, (Galatians 2:20,) and our lives are to reflect His glory, (2 Corinthians 3:16-18,) and our lives are to display the fruit of the Spirit, (Galatians 5:22-23,) then we have to come to the conclusion that there is absolutely no room for a hypocrite in the Lord’s church, in the family, in personal life. And in those who govern us.

After so many months of suffering, each one of us need to rebuild ourselves. Bringing the compassionate heart into our lives. The disjointed head and heart disposition of  those who rule us brought great agony.

We cannot allow that dichotomy to percolate into our lives. In our families, let us bring concern for one another. “Love one another as I loved you” that is the way we heal ourselves; we rebuild ourselves. Let us arm ourselves with love. As  weapons are brought from all over the world, let us arm ourselves with love for one another. True authenticity, as Jesus castigated the Pharisees, comes ultimately through love.

Dear brothers and sisters, we faced so many challenges. Our healing, rehabilitation and reconstruction of our life needs to start from inside, as Jesus points out. Our memory needs to be healed; our heart needs to be healed. All the  anxieties and anger needs to be healed.

We pray for this inner healing today. That inner healing starts with our ability to move from the head, the mind, that seeks only vengeance towards the heart that forgives and learn to love. May we have the courage to move from untruth, self-deception towards truth and self-care.

May the Lord, the living Word, enter our heart and mind, so that we may live an authentic  life, working towards  a Myanmar where heart plays a major role in  rebuilding all of us  as the  Deuteronomy praises us :  

” There is no people as wise and as intelligent as this great nation”
And is there a nation as great as ours.” Deut. 4:1-2,6-8