Cor is the Latin word for the heart. My heart is the core of who I am — it is the innermost part of my being. “The heart is our hidden center, beyond the grasp of our reason and of others; only the Spirit of God can fathom the human heart and know it fully” (CCC 2563). Jesus longs to be there. The good shepherd is knocking at the door to our hearts. He thirsts and longs to be invited in. He is knocking on the door to our hearts, but he will not force his way. He must be invited.
I had spent three decades away from God and his Church. Music brought me back to regular Mass attendance when my wife cajoled me into joining our parish choir for a single Christmas season. That season ended up lasting fifteen years. I loved serving as a music minister. During that time, I thought I was a pretty good Catholic. I attended Mass, sang in the choir, was involved in a leadership role in the music ministry, and gave in the weekly collection. What more was there?
I had no daily walk with God. I didn’t know that an intimate relationship with the almighty was even possible. God wasn’t the center of my life, although I entered His house every Sunday to sing at Mass. The rest of the week, I lived life like I could do life all on my own and didn’t need God. Life was difficult, and I had little peace.
Twelve years into my career as a choir boy, I was introduced to Matthew Kelley, the evangelist, writer, and speaker, and to Matthew’s books. I learned about a Catholic faith that I had been born into but had never known. In Kelley’s book The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic, I discovered that committed Catholics prayed every day and had a routine of prayer, that they read the Bible and other great Catholic literature, that they were generous, and they shared their faith. I did not have a prayer life at that time, but I stepped out in faith one morning and never looked back.
It was a brisk spring morning before sunrise when my alarm went off ten minutes early so I could stop by a Catholic church on my way to work to sit in silence before God for the very first time. I had learned from Matthew Kelley that when he was young he had taken some good advice and started to stop at a church for ten minutes on his way to school. He would sit in the quiet and plan his day — until the day he was facing some difficulty when he asked the question that would change his life forever: “Lord, what do you want me to do?”
I didn’t know how to pray. I might have been praying at an elementary school level since that was probably the last time I had practiced that art. I took a leap of faith that spring morning as I entered a darkened church and fell to my knees in prayer. I could not have described it at the time, but in that act of the will I had invited Jesus into my heart for the first time. I had no idea how profoundly my life would be impacted and transformed.
In the Gospel according to Luke, it is written: “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are in peace; but when one stronger than he assails him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted, and divides his spoil” (Lk 11: 21-22). I didn’t know it at that time in my life, but the house of my life was occupied by one who thrived on suffering and heartache. My heart was in need of a good house-cleaning. When I invited the stronger man – our Lord, Jesus Christ – in, he started to do just that.
I was having problems at home, my leadership style at my business was toxic, I had a problem with bad language, was arrogant, and was a daily user of soft-core internet pornography, among other things. After that first attempt at prayer in a darkened, holy church, and after inviting Jesus into my heart, my life began to change. Overnight.
I started stopping at the church every morning, and my inclinations began to transform. I became more focused at work. I experienced profound moments of peace. It took a while, but I started to see the face of Christ in others I encountered each day and to treat my brothers and sisters in the world as the beautiful, non-repeatable children of God that they are. Eventually, I became a better boss as I adopted Jesus’ model of servant leadership. And my desire to look at salacious images on the internet was gone. It was literally gone overnight after that very first morning in prayer, and it has never returned. Not once. When I learned later how some men struggle for years to let go of that evil addiction, I realized that I had undergone a profound healing.
My experience was reminiscent of the hemorrhaging woman in Mark’s Gospel:
“And there was a woman who had had a flow of blood for twelve years…For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I shall be made well.” And immediately the hemorrhage ceased, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease” (Mk 5:25-29).
I had invited the Lord into my heart, and Jesus the stronger man was cleaning up. I was in need of a clean sweep of my heart, and our blessed Lord was starting to transform me in ways I had never dreamed of. I had but touched the fringe of his garment.
I love the painting of Jesus, the good shepherd, who is depicted knocking on a door. Something is missing in the painting, however — a door knob. There is no door knob on the outside of the door where Jesus is knocking. There is only a door knob on the inside of the door, and that is a metaphor for the inside of our hearts. Only we can open the door to our hearts to let the good shepherd in. Only we can invite the stronger man into our lives to start the process of housecleaning so that he can begin to transform us into all that he created us to be.
With Jesus inhabiting my heart, and with my heart bathed in the light of he who is the light of the world, I had a choice to make. Would I embrace life with a heart of clay or one of wax? As clay is baked by the sun it becomes hard – wax becomes soft. Would my heart become more malleable in the light — like wax — in the hands of the great potter, our Blessed Lord and God? Or would I harden my heart like clay beaten by the sun? Once I was on the road to discipleship with Jesus, falling in love with my Lord, my heart of wax was his.
Saul, after his conversion experience on the road to Damascus, let Jesus into his heart. As the Apostle Paul, he was shipwrecked, beaten, stoned, imprisoned, and killed for his faith. The stronger man in him protected him in his eternal race. The stronger man inhabiting our hearts is Jesus Christ, and, once he is there, it is harder for evil to overtake us.
Come, Lord Jesus, into my heart … dwell there … transform me. Thank you for my healing and for the clean sweep of my heart, my cor.