Pope Francis Cautions Against Hearts Hardened by Fear

Only the Holy Spirit can prompt one’s heart to say Father and break the hardness of heart, so that it is free to love, the Pope said in his homily at Friday’s Mass.

(photo: CNA file photo)

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis cautioned against the narcissism of those who close their hearts out of fear, insecurity or vanity, saying that only the Holy Spirit can make us docile and open to love.

“We have ‘mirror men and women’ (who are wedded to their own images in the mirror), who are closed in on themselves and are constantly looking at themselves, right? These religious narcissists, right?” the Pope told those present for his Jan. 9 daily Mass.

These people, he said, “have a hardened heart, because they are closed in on themselves; they are not open. And they seek to defend themselves with these walls that they have created around themselves.”

Pope Francis spoke to those present in the chapel of the Vatican’s St. Martha guesthouse, centering his reflections on the day’s Gospel reading, which recounted how Jesus’ disciples were afraid when they saw him walking on the water.

The reason for their fear was that their hearts had been hardened, the Pope observed, explaining that a person’s heart can become like stone for various reasons, including a painful life experience.

However, there are those whose hearts become hard because they close in on themselves and refuse to go out, he said, noting that these people create “a world within oneself, all closed in — closed within oneself, in one’s community or parish, but always closed in.”

Closure such as this can have many different roots, the Holy Father explained, pointing out that pride, self-sufficiency, vanity and the tendency to think we are better than others are all common causes.

Other hearts harden due to problems of insecurity and fear, in which the person barricades him or herself behind a wall of rules and regulations, the Pope continued, noting that, in reality, these people create a prison for themselves in order to feel safe.

“When a heart becomes hardened, it’s not free, and if it’s not free, it’s because that person isn't capable of love,” he said, referring to the day’s first reading from the First Letter of John, in which the apostle declares that perfect love casts out all fear.

Love has no fear, because fear anticipates some sort of punishment, the Holy Father observed, explaining that a person who is fearful is not free and doesn’t have this perfect love that the apostle spoke about.

Fearful people, he said, “are constantly afraid that something painful or sad will occur, which will cause their lives to go badly or will endanger their eternal salvation. … What an (overactive) imagination, because he or she can’t love!”

Pope Francis then said that, despite all of the different spirituality or study courses we take, it is only through the Holy Spirit that it is possible to learn how to love and to be open to faith.

“You can follow thousands of catechism courses, thousands of spirituality courses, thousands of yoga or Zen courses, and all these things. But none of this will be able to give you the freedom [you can have] as a child (of God).”

“Only the Holy Spirit can prompt your heart to say, ‘Father’” and break the hardness of heart, so that it is free to love, the Pope explained.

He concluded by emphasizing that the Holy Spirit does not simply make our hearts “soft,” but makes them “docile … docile toward the Lord; docile when it comes to the freedom to love.”