Today our first reading reminds us that Wisdom is the highest of things we can possess in this life. And since our fallen nature so often leads us astray, we only get wisdom if we know where to look: God is its source, and the cross shows that, as we hear in Corinthians, His folly is greater than our wisdom. To accept that kind of wisdom, we need to make a radical change. Not an external change, but an even harder one: a change in our heart.
Take, for example, our young man today. He has many, many external signs as he is introduced to us: he shows real enthusiasm by running to Christ as asking about eternal life, he has manifest righteousness in keeping the law, which is only emphasized by the abundant blessings God has given him in this life (for Jews, wealth was generally viewed as God blessing the righteous). But in his heart do we find any Wisdom? no. The Virtues? Not really, since his pious practices are only a soul-less exercise of habit.
“All of these [commandments] I have done since my youth,” he says. First, this is like me saying “I've been doing that since I was 25!” to which you “wiser” members of the parish might say, Fr. Terry, that was three years ago; are you kidding?!” Talk about a lack of perspective! Second, Pride? he is blithely saying he has perfected all 600+ commands in the Jewish tradition. Nonsense.
The Lord Jesus, the Word of God that Hebrews mentions is “living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword,” cuts between the soul and the spirit of this young man. His soul is laid bare to Christ, who knows exactly what the man needs to hear. Like a good doctor, he goes right to the core problem, not playing around with addressing only manifest symptoms, and finds the deep issue: his heart is in the wrong place: he only wants perfection, superiority, etc. Jesus offers him the wisdom of God, where power is made perfect in weakness and the self is fulfilled in self-gift (the Cross). He invites the man to the “Circumcision of the heart” that Hebrews alludes to.
When Hebrews mentions a two-edged sword, it is referring to the sword of circumcision which is the core of Jewish identity, an intensely radical physical sign that the people and their descendants belong to God and God alone! However, it is meant to be paralleled by a posture of the heart. This old testament theme is taken up by St. Paul in Romans 2:18-29, concluding that: “True circumcision is not outward, in the flesh. Rather one is a Jew inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart, in the spirit, not the letter.” This image, then, is seen the core of the Christian life. It is conversion, which summarizes the Gospel that Christ came to preach: “Repent and believe the Gospel!” Unfortunately, the young man is not ready to accept that. He lowers his head, he takes his eyes off Christ, closing off the ability to see that Jesus is looking upon him with absolute, genuine love. It is no wonder, then, that he ends up going away sad.
Right now over 200 bishops are gathered with the Holy Father in Rome for a two-week Synod on the New Evangelization. Just like the Second Vatican Council which we celebrate 50 years ago by opening this Year of Faith, The are working together to discover how to best read the signs of our time and bring the Gospel message to us in a new way through a renewal of the Church. They are searching for how to, like Christ, speak to man's heart and call him to be perfect. And since the New Evangelization is particularly oriented toward baptized Christians who have already “heard all about Jesus,” the bishops are working on how best to reach the “lost sheep” of the house of Israel, of the Church. How can they foster the encounter of Christ with His people?
From what I have followed in their discussions so far, I have gathered two important points, both oriented towards conversion, towards this sort of “circumcision of the heart” that we all need so desparately: first, Timothy Cardinal Dolan has said that the sacrament of confession is the sacrament of the New Evangelization. The fact is, Catholics receive Communion way more frequently than they prepare for it by regularly making a sincere confession, which endangers turning the holiest of external acts into a soul-less exercise of habit. Secondly, the witness of a humble church of repentant sinners will certainly open hearts to the Gospel, because Christ came to find and redeem the lost and fallen, not congratulate those who were self-made and only in need of affirmation. The New Evangelization needs witnesses who have put aside everything in this life so as to have Christ.
As true Christians, we must put aside all our human wisdom, allow Christ to speak the Gospel to us even when it hurts, and “circumcise our hearts” for the renewal of the Church, which is only accomplished in a renewal of individuals within that Church.