When I was a young boy, I learned a prayer which I still recite today. If you ever attend a meeting which I chair, you’re likely to hear it. Some of you will know it. It goes like this:
to whom all hearts are open,
all desires known,
and from whom no secrets are hidden;
cleanse the thoughts of our hearts
by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit,
that we may more perfectly love you
and worthily magnify your holy name;
we ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen
It’s a beautiful prayer which I find deeply reassuring. It’s also slightly daunting because it reminds us that God can read our hearts, a sentiment expressed repeatedly in the Book of Psalms. God, as it were, see what’s happening within us, at the core of our being. All our thoughts, our, longings and our desires are known to God and no secrets are ever hidden from God. Now there’s food for thought; and, probably, an incentive to change.
I imagine countless people have been comforted and terrified by the inscription once common in Christian homes: God is the head of this house, the unseen guest at every meal, the silent listener to every conversation. Are we completely comfortable with God listening to our every conversation? If the answer’s no, then then maybe we better start talking differently.
In the Lord Jesus’ time people thrived on knowing everyone else’s business. It’s probably not that much different today. As one scholar puts it: ‘For all practical purposes, there was no privacy in ancient village life.’ Whatever kind of curtains they had in first century Palestine, they would have been twitching constantly. Nosey neighbours were everywhere. And, again, according to our scholar, children were trained to spy out the secrets of other families, while keeping their own family secrets intact. It makes more sense of why the disciples tried to push away the children who wanted to come to the Lord Jesus, although His response was ‘let the children come to me, do not stop them.’
Understanding this social history from Palestine in the first century, it’s not surprising those first twelve disciples were a little bit edgy about the Lord Jesus announcing Good News that was so revolutionary. It challenged so much of how things were done. It challenged how God was understood. It challenged what it meant to pray. It challenged what it meant to live by the commandments. We can imagine how frightened those disciples were that the teaching of Jesus might set the gossips chattering and the snitches running all the way to the religious and political rulers.
And yet, the Lord Jesus proclaims a powerful word of reassurance, one so important that He says it three times:
‘Do not be afraid’ he says – everything I’ve told you will eventually come out into the open, so don’t be anxious about telling people now;
‘Do not be afraid’ he says – whatever threats people make, you and your soul are safe with God;
‘There is no need to be afraid’ he says– you are of eternal worth to God.
To hear the Lord Jesus speak like this would have been so uplifting for the disciples, as He prepared them for the mission ahead. Announcing the in-breaking of God’s kingdom would bring its challenges, as it does today; but they could stand firm, confidently trusting in the power of His word.
Strengthened by this, missionaries and martyrs ever since have stood publicly, in broad daylight, and witnessed to Christ. Men and women, laypeople, religious, and clergy, have shouted the Good News – not just from the roof tops, but from the gallows and from the torture chamber, from the firing squad, and the starvation bunker.
Dear friends, we can take courage from the Lord’s words today, not to whisper our faith in a holy huddle, not to hide our Catholicism, but to stand up and be counted for Christ. The Lord, and His Church, needs you and me to be witnesses today: speaking His truth, serving with His heart; protecting the defenceless and those unjustly treated – from conception, throughout life, until natural death – irrespective of race, disability, nationality, or status. We must be the witness of the Gospel today.
This past week saw the 21st anniversary of the death of the much loved former Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Basil Hume. In his book, The Mystery of Love, he wrote this about ‘judgement:’
‘A priest started his homily at a funeral saying, ‘I am going to preach about judgement’. There was dismay in the congregation. But he went on: ‘Judgement is whispering into the ear of a merciful and compassionate God the story of my life which I had never been able to tell.’
The God ‘to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hidden,’ the God who calls us to perfection and holiness of life, is a merciful God and a compassionate God. It is precisely because God loves us, that we want to be pierced through by his compassionate seeing and His merciful knowing. And, of course, the very best way not to be anxious that our secrets are known to God is simply to tell Him, in prayerful conversation, everything that’s going on in our lives, the disasters as well as the delights.
Those of you who are parents will know that your heart goes out to your children just as much, if not more so, when they share with you, not only their successes and achievements, but also their problems and mistake, their worries and fears, even when you already know them.
‘Do not be afraid;’ – These are words to inspire our discipleship. ‘Do not be afraid;’ – These are words to embolden our mission and evangelisation. ‘There is no need to be afraid.’ – These are words to encourage us to pray, honestly and straightforwardly, to the God who knows everything in our hearts, but lovingly longs for us to tell Him what’s there, whispering into the ear of God, even now, the story of our life.
 Pilch, John, The Cultural World of Jesus, Cycle A, 100.
 Hume, Basil, The Mystery of Love, 87