Friday, October 2, 2015

Softening the Hardened Heart through Prayer

Fr. John J. Pasquini, Th.D.

Softening the Hardened Heart through Prayer

I felt at the time that religion would impede my work.  I wanted to have nothing to do with the religion of those I saw all around me.  I felt that I must turn from it as from a drug.  I felt it indeed to be an opiate of the people and not a very attractive one, so I hardened my heart.  It was a conscious and deliberate process.[1]
                                                                                    Dorothy Day

Dorothy Day would eventually respond to God and soften her heart and become a world leader in the Church’s work for the poor and the disenfranchised. 

A hardened heart is one of the most problematic dilemmas that one can experience along one’s journey in life (cf. Jn. 12:40).  It is so problematic because it is so difficult to overcome and to heal.  There is perhaps nothing more obtrusive to the gift of grace than a heart that is unwilling to open itself up to the possibility of an all-engulfing God. 

A hardened heart is a frightened heart, a heart unwilling to take a chance at experiencing anything beyond its comfort level.  There is a fear that what one may find if one opens one’s heart will be too overwhelming to deal with.   

A hardened heart is most often the consequence of some unresolved issue or deep psychological scar that has never been dealt with properly.  One cannot conquer what one does not recognize. 

When one examines the lives of atheists, it is astonishingly common to find these people lacking in good fatherly figures.  It is difficult to pray “Our Father who art in heaven” when the only experience of a father has been one that has been experienced as evil, mean-spirited, or non-existent.  When looking at the lives of the world’s major atheists, such as men like Nietzsche, one is struck by this lack of fatherly guidance.  For people such as this, often a miracle is necessary to soften the heart.

It is here where the communion of saints becomes so significant (cf. Jn. 2:1-14; Rev. 5:8).  The communion of the faithful here on earth and in heaven has a profound effect on the softening of hearts throughout the world, for by themselves people with hardened hearts are much too weak to respond to the grace that is being showered upon them.  A tragic event or the power of the prayers of the saints is often the only way these people soften their hearts.  In many ways, they are very much like addicts.  They often need to hit rock bottom before they can acknowledge the need of another.  It is through the prayers of others, known and unknown, that the world’s hearts are softened. 

One must, thus, never underestimate the power of praying for others.  St. Monica prayed for thirty years for the conversion of her son, Augustine.  Her prayers were successful in softening his heart and he became the great St. Augustine.   

[1] Dorothy Day, The Long Loneliness (New York: Curtis Books, 1972), 10.