Suffering and the Undefiled Heart

“What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.” (Matthew 15:11)

Like many teachings of Jesus, this can be a difficult one as we think about sinful elements we allow to enter our body, from unhealthy food to unhealthy teachings. But in the context of the verse, we know that Jesus is challenging the Pharisees on their reliance on the law instead of focusing on their heart.

Father Jacques Philippe
Father Jacques Philippe

Suffering is something we all experience, but how we share that suffering, how it comes from “someone’s mouth,” can show the condition of our heart. As many people are now suffering from COVID-19 either directly or indirectly, it is important to acknowledge the suffering and address it from an “undefiled heart.” In the March issue of Magnificat, Father Jacques Philippe lays out how suffering tears us apart. “Suffering easily becomes accusation, bitterness, judgment, pessimism, discouragement, worry, etc. This, not suffering itself, is what darkens the soul and causes harm.”

Instead, he says, we “should displace [these thoughts] with positive thoughts of faith, hope, and love.” We cannot control many of the events that cause us suffering, but by focusing our hearts on what is pure instead of impure, we can address suffering in a better way. “The struggle for purity of heart requires keeping one’s heart free from anything that can harm it by causing it to lose its capacity for love.” We will fail, we will show the darkness of our heart through negative actions, but we must not give into living with a defiled heart. The essence of our faith is to create a pure heart for “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8).

“Suffering easily becomes accusation, bitterness, judgment, pessimism, discouragement, worry, etc. This, not suffering itself, is what darkens the soul and causes harm.”

Father Jacques Philippe

Suffering, like many things in our life, does not belong to grief alone. Last week I looked at anxiety and grief, again, something that grief does not own. But those in grief have a long familiarity with suffering, it is part of our existence. And I know I’ve spoken from suffering with a defiled heart, but I’m working hard on speaking with an undefiled heart. It is not something I can accomplish without God’s grace, but it is also not a passive exercise. It calls for returning to God’s word, time in prayer, and the humility to know I will fail and then to try again.

As many of us suffer in different ways in the present world, seek to speak from an undefiled heart.

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