Tobacco-Tin Hearts

For 24 June 2024, Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist, based on Acts of the Apostles 13:22–26

(Photo by Pierre Bamin on Unsplash)

When God had removed Saul as king, God made David their king. In his testimony about him he said, “I have found David, son of Jesse, to be a man after my heart, who will carry out all my wishes.” Of this man’s posterity God has brought to Israel a Saviour, Jesus, as he promised; before his coming John had already proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. And as John was finishing his work, he said, “What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. No, but one is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of the sandals on his feet.”
‘My brothers, you descendants of Abraham’s family, and others who fear God, to us the message of this salvation has been sent.
This year, on the feast of the Birth of John the Baptist, I have an impulse to reread Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize novel, Beloved— a story about some enslaved persons who, after the American Civil War, had been freed from a southern plantation ironically called “Sweet Home” and are trying to survive together in a new home in the North. The book takes its title from Romans 9:25: As [God] says in Hosea, “Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved’” (NRSV).
One of these survivors is Paul D., a man who copes with the trauma of his enslaved past by locking away unwanted memories and emotions into what he calls a tobacco tin in his chest—a tobacco tin where his heart used to be. This condition is the reality for many people who carry trauma from the past—as they repress the past for survival today, their fleshy hearts become locked and impenetrable.
But the problem is that tobacco-can hearts are not very good for relationship. Even when our hearts have only been tightly closed for a few days, the heart muscle needs to become resilient again.
Today, the Church draws a parallel between John the Baptist and the Old Testament’s David. God says, in the Acts of the Apostles, “I have found David, son of Jesse, to be a man after my heart, who will carry out all my wishes.” John the Baptist, too, fulfills God’s wishes. He points the way to Jesus. John has a resilient heart, entrained to the beating heart of God, Jesus among us. John points us to Jesus and his Way.
We, too, want resilient hearts. We need to be set free from enslavements or traumas in the present or from the past. God wills to attune us to the divine heartbeat of Jesus so that we can be free to open up our hearts in God’s beloved community. Together, with resilient hearts attuned in right relationship to the world, we can follow God’s Way, which is freedom, truth, and life.

Scripture passage from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright 1989, 1993, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

About Gregory Heille, O.P.

Gregory Heille, O.P., serves as Professor of Preaching and Evangelization and director of the Doctor of Ministry in Preaching at Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis, Missouri. He is a friar of the Province of St. Albert the Great USA and has a particular interest in racial equity education.