I grew up with several ‘family stories’ that defined my world view. On dad’s side of the family it was simply the witness of grandpa in his love for grandma. Grandma had a slow acting cancer, and was bedridden for the final 13 years of her life. And grandpa was always there. I asked (impudently) one day, after she was gone and grandpa had moved in with us: “Grandpa, wasn’t it hard to take care of grandma in the nursing home all those years?” He looked like I had slapped him. “No, it wasn’t hard. You see, I loved her. And that made everything easy.” (Though it was not his intention, boy did I feel like a schmuck for even asking.)
On mom’s side of the family, it was the day a worker from the Chrystler plant just a block away from were grandma and grampa and mom lived that saved their home. The rent was due. And they had nothing. And were going to be evicted. And mom was crying on the front yard. And a man she had never met was walking home from work at the plant and saw my mom crying her eyes and asked what was wrong. Through her tears, mom let him know. “Go get your dad.” And though I never heard exactly HOW it happened, because of the kindness of that stranger, they were able to keep their home.
Two stories of two people who let their heart move them and then followed where that led. Luke tells us today, “When the Lord saw her (the mother), he was moved with pity for her.” Jesus sees a woman who has already buried her husband and now she is burying her only son. In the patriarchal society of her day that meant she was losing not only the child who loved her, but the one who provided for her needs and was her source of security and comfort.
Witnessing the grief and sorrow before him, and perhaps seeing a glimpse of the future that might await his own mother, Jesus acts on the impulse of his heart. He does something to change the situation.
Seeing Jesus being led by his heart serves as a good example for us. In our lives we often come across situations that tug at our hearts. We receive solicitations in the mail describing the plight of Syrian refugees fleeing war or containing pictures of malnourished children in Haiti and the Sudan. We hear an appeal at Mass from a dedicated woman assisting unwed, pregnant mothers so they might choose life. We hear news reports of Christians being executed for their faith. We notice an elderly neighbor struggling to care for the outside of her home.
Our hearts move us to do something, but that impulse is often negated by our heads. We start to think, what difference would my donation really make? Shouldn’t people suffer the consequences of their decisions? Aren’t there social and charitable institutions, and governmental agencies to deal with these issues? If I help, won’t I just be asked again and again? If our heads take over, our hearts lose, and we do nothing.
If Jesus had let that happen, the widow would have gone away from her son’s grave – devastated, alone, and destitute. And, in the bigger scheme of salvation, if Jesus had not let his heart rule, we would still be lost in sin and not saved by his cross and resurrection.
Perhaps, like me, you are graced with stories in your own family about following your heart. Perhaps the only stories you see are those of Jesus in the gospel. This week, pay attention to that muscle in the center of all you are. And when your heart moves within you – pay attention. Perhaps it will be a stranger who approaches you. A beggar on the streets. A news story. Whatever it might be, let your heart move YOU, and ACT….