As a student many years ago, I recall looking forward to a new school year. The first day of school was always exciting because I would get to wear a new uniform, learn in a new classroom, meet new teachers and use new textbooks and stationery. I was filled with much hope and anticipation for what the year ahead would bring.
Coming into 2022 however, we are experiencing a familiar sense of uncertainty with COVID-19 continuing to affect our family, our work, our livelihoods and our health. Many of us dreamed of being able to put the pandemic behind us once 2022 arrived; however, this has not been the case. Most of us know family members, colleagues and friends who have tested positive to COVID in recent months, and it is unclear what life holds for each of us looking into the year ahead.
Each of us enters into a new year differently. Some people change their external environment – clean or paint their house, buy new clothes or shoes, go on an adventure during the holidays. Some make a list of resolutions or work towards particular goals. There is a desire for renewal, starting afresh and looking at the world in a new way.
In the Bible we hear that God wants to renew us from the inside, especially our hearts. God wants to renew what is in our heart. God desires his people to have a heart that knows God. In Jeremiah 24:7 we hear the following words: “I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord; and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart.” God’s promise to his people is a new heart. The prophet Ezekiel’s message was given in the context of the Israelites being exiled in Babylon and they were looking forward to God returning them to their homeland after seventy years (Jer. 29:11-12).
God will restore and revive them not only in terms of land and material, but He wants them to be restored spiritually with a new heart. The Lord promised to give them a new heart. What does a new heart mean? The word “heart” in the Old Testament refers to our inner person, including our will, our emotions, our soul, our mind, and our thoughts. A new heart also refers to the revival of our heart so that the Holy Spirit can dwell in it. Why is a new heart necessary? Because everything comes from the heart. Jesus says: “For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness and slander” (Matt. 15:19). And from the book of Proverbs: “Be careful above all else with your heart, for from it are the fountains of life” (Prov 4:23).
As we journey into 2022, where we commemorate the conversion of St Ignatius 500 years ago, we are all invited to a personal, communal and institutional conversion during the Ignatian Year. Let’s start with our own heart and ask for God’s grace to be able to begin with our own individual conversion – conversion of the heart.
Fr Quyen Vu SJ