HomedotMagisDiscernmentHarden Not Our Hearts

Harden Not Our Hearts

candle in heart outlineAn antiphon that we often hear in Lent says, “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts” (Hebrews 3:15 and Psalm 95:8). This line teaches me a way to think about the journey of Lent: to allow our hearts to be more open and responsive to whatever the Lord has to tell us and the world.

Lent is a season of conversion. The Greek term for conversion, metanoia, means “turning around.” To convert is to get reoriented, to change our focus. For many of us, that means changing our focus from ourselves to others and to God’s call. Ignatian spirituality also affirms that God speaks to us through the desires of our hearts. In a sense, we become more and more aware that what God wants and what we really, most deeply desire are the same. Lent helps us to get in touch with the deeper calls of the heart.

“Hardening our hearts,” though, is a great temptation. To be human means we will sometimes experience pain and suffering, and yet we can choose how to respond. Do we try to toughen up our hearts and try to protect them further, or follow the way of Jesus and allow our hearts to be softened so that we may better love one another?

Of course, at the start, we need to be able to hold tenderly our own pain and sorrow, and even reverence our anger. Over the longer haul, however, there is a different kind of choice to make. How do I think about my own past experiences of suffering? Do I see them as a reason for fear or as a further opportunity to love? We can even think of our own sins in this way: how does my experience of my own shortcomings and failures allow me to be more compassionate and forgiving towards others in theirs?

A reading early on in Lent reminds us to “choose life.” When we choose to allow our hearts to be softened rather than hardening our hearts, we choose the way of life. When we choose to follow God’s call with a trust in God that exceeds our trust in ordinary human beings, we choose life.

Love can continue to flow through our lives when we do not cut off the channels of the heart through which it flows. Love flows when we listen for the voice of God and act responsively to it.

Marina Berzins McCoy
Marina Berzins McCoy
Marina Berzins McCoy is a professor at Boston College, where she teaches philosophy and in the BC PULSE service-learning program. She is the author of The Ignatian Guide to Forgiveness and Wounded Heroes: Vulnerability as a Virtue in Ancient Greek Philosophy. She and her husband are the parents to two young adults and live in the Boston area.


  1. Marina, I have set aside time during this Lent to work through something very difficult in my life. This reflection forms one step along the pathway to healing. Thank you and God bless!

  2. Hello, I am in need of reconnecting with my Lord. I have become “numb” to life at times. I know my blessings and yet I still feel “strained”. I have seen many things in life but losing my husband suddenly a little over 2 years ago and trying to raise our youngest children 17 and 12 without him is so hard. I feel so fragile. The other night I was asking the Lord for help and somehow He led me to a
    Catholic radio program discussing spiritual desolation. I was only able to catch the tail end of the discussion but it “captured” me per say. As I did a search into this I discovered St Ignatius and his “spiritual exercises”. I feel like the Lord may be calling me to a retreat because I definitely need a “reawakening” in my spiritual life. I need a breathe of fresh air, healing my heart, and to go on and bring love to others. I remember a quote that I love; “one cannot give what they do not have” perhaps I am in need of God’s healing grace.

  3. Thanks for these tender words. My past experiences of suffering have shaped me into the person I am today. I can be very hard-hearted and I ask God for help with this. I’ve learned that we all suffer and that there is hope.

    • That’s a wise point–we all suffer, and yet there is hope. I find that my own suffering, once it is healed enough, has helped me to connect to others in theirs. Thanks for your comment.

  4. This is so HARD:
    How do I think about my own past experiences of suffering? Do I see them as a reason for fear or as a further opportunity to love? I struggle with this always. But I ask God to open my heart, to love without fear. Thank you for this reflection. Thank you for showing me the way to choose life.

  5. I have a hard time telling apart a real, genuine desire that God has planted on us, from what could be just a whim. Even when I’ve been familiar for years with discernment rules, still it’s not clear to me in many occassions. I’m lately meditating about Psalm 37, where it says “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” but still have many, and intense, unfulfilled desires… maybe I’m not patient enough.

  6. It’s very hard not to harden our hearts sometimes. I think I may have done this after the loss of my father in law, my mother, and my husband in a years time and then a week after my husbands funeral, becoming the primary caregiver (which I was for my mother and husband also) for my only brother who was diagnosed with stage four head and neck cancer that very week. I never really had time to grieve any of the three that I lost, and I did question the very existence of God. It is the only time in my life I think I felt that way. Now I am having difficulty with experiencing my faith, and God. Thank you for your article. It has given me much to think about.

    • Reading your response just stopped me in my tracks this morning as I felt the pain of your many and deep losses. I would not venture to give any advice except to express my sorrow at your difficulties and express the fervent hope that as you grieve you will be comforted by our loving God and those people around you who love you both here and beyond the veil of death.

      • Thank you so much for your compassion. It has been a struggle, compounded by the fact that in August I was diagnosed with stage four metastatic breast cancer in my bones, and it is, as the oncologist put it, extensive. I feel that God is trying to get my attention. Thank you again for your caring words, and God Bless you.

        • I was moved by your post and the many struggles that you have been experiencing. In times of difficulty, I have found it helpful to bring the whole range of my feelings to God. I am praying for you and yours. Peace.


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Loretta Pehanich
Marina Berzins McCoy
Tim Muldoon