Friday, December 30, 2005

The Hardening

I learned something recently. Actually, it has been a long process of growing awareness, but it has suddenly become clearer. I think it’s something that I didn’t really want to believe, but if I’m to be honest, I have to acknowledge the evidence.

In the Letter to the Romans, St Paul declares: “a hardening has come upon a part of Israel…” (11:25), and he says this is a mystery we need to understand. Now I don’t wish to talk about Israel here, because I think that the hardening has come upon the whole world—not every individual, of course, but upon many. The hardening is that of the heart, in biblical terms, which results in a refusal to recognize the truth, even when it is clearly and unmistakably set before them. It is a willful rejection of that for which there is plentiful and often irrefutable evidence—just because they have some other reason for believing a lie.

In my naiveté, I had always thought that those who rejected the truth did so because of ignorance, of not having all the facts or evidence, or of some other impediment or incapacity that was not (entirely) their fault. The presumption was that if an ordinary, rational human being were presented with clear evidence or cogent arguments, especially if the evidence or the logic were manifestly unassailable, he would naturally accept the truth that was shown him. But this is not so when dealing with a hardened heart.

St Paul said this of the pagans who refused to believe in Christ: “they are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart…” (Ephesians 4:18). Thus their ignorance is culpable. Hardness of heart alienates one from God, and hence from truth and love.

Here’s an example that helped tip the scales for me. “Emile Zola went to Lourdes for the purpose of condemning the whole enterprise. But unexpectedly he witnessed a striking miracle before his very eyes. An eighteen-year-old girl was suddenly cured of three apparently incurable diseases: advanced lupus, pulmonary tuberculosis, and large ulcerations on her leg. Zola himself described the girl’s face as being eaten away by the lupus: ‘The whole was a frightful distorted mass of matter and oozing blood.’ She went into the bath and ‘emerged completely cured.’ Zola was present. And the cure was permanent, because sixteen years later she remained in perfect health. But there was no change in Zola’s mind” (Thomas Dubay, The Evidential Power of Beauty, emphasis added). Someone who can witness such a dramatic and undeniable miracle and walk away unmoved, unconvinced, can only be said to have hardened his heart.

One cannot reason with people like that; one cannot show them compelling evidence and expect them to accept it; one cannot assume that they will call white white and black black, but in fact may do just the opposite. Those who have hardened their hearts seem to be increasing in number, and they hold influential positions in the media, the government, and even in the Church—and especially in lucrative enterprises like the abortion industry. You really have to have a hard heart to be able to cut little babies into pieces every day, and then take home a nice paycheck without looking back. And there are many who are complicit in this evil, who don't actually do the dirty work.

A hardening has come upon many who attack the Church, whether from without or within. It is clear what the Church teaches; read the Catechism and papal documents. But many try to reject, deny, distort or otherwise make them into something that fits their own preference or agenda, and then denigrate those who uphold her teachings! Why? If they don’t like what the Catholic Church teaches, there are plenty of others who accommodate their brand of error quite willingly; they can join them! But no, a hardened heart has reasons that reason would shudder to know.

I think we have to accept that there are many with whom we will get nowhere by reasoning, clear argumentation and documentation, or any other form of normal, rational dialogue. They will not see or hear the truth because somewhere deep within they have already decided to reject it at all costs. What they stand to gain—economically, politically, socially—is more important to them than what is true, good, and beautiful. For them the only thing we can do is pray and sacrifice, so that the Holy Spirit will somehow reach them from within, overturning their chosen obstacles to truth and righteousness, shining a clear and divine light within them.

Then perhaps a “softening” will occur, and hearts and minds will open to the truth, will abandon arrogance, greed, self-aggrandizement and the “malignant narcissism” that is at the core of many of today’s hardened hearts. Don’t expect to soften a hardened heart with words. Go to the Lord instead with words of supplication, pleas for mercy—and then from his heart rivers of living water will flow, to wear away all hardness and to bring new life. This may take a long time, for a hardened heart is the most difficult thing to heal, more so than ravaging diseases of the body. The girl at Lourdes was instantly healed of those, but Emile Zola walked away still bearing his hard heart. Let us trust that with God all things are possible, and begin praying in earnest.