The Word Among Us

July/August 2018 Issue

Opened Heavens, Open Hearts

The promise of the “divine exchange.”

Opened Heavens, Open Hearts: The promise of the “divine exchange.”

We know that God has created us with the capacity—the potential—to know him personally and intimately.

We’ve also been talking about how this capacity includes the potential to receive revelation from the Holy Spirit. Of course, this isn’t part of our physical makeup. It won’t show up on an X-Ray or MRI scan. But as elusive as this capacity sounds, Church history is filled with stories of people who have experienced God’s love and peace in their hearts. It’s filled with stories of people who have had the Scriptures come to life because the Spirit has revealed it to them.

History tells us that, when God reveals himself to us, it’s more than data or information. He doesn’t just tell us about himself or about Church doctrine. His revelation is also a personal experience in our hearts. It’s an unveiling of his life and his love in a way that changes us and helps us become more like him.

Now that we have seen some of the major places where God speaks to us—in creation, Scripture, and Tradition—let’s look at how we can receive this grace of revelation.

A Divine Exchange. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, then I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me. (Revelation 3:20)

This is probably one of the most important—and dramatic—revelations God has given us: Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, wants to enter our lives and take an active role in them. He is knocking at the door of our hearts, eager for us to invite him in.

The image of opening the door of our hearts to the Lord can sound sentimental, like a feel-good step that we may not take seriously. But if we unpack this idea, we’ll see that there are specific ways that we can open the door, and there are specific results that we can expect if we do.

Perhaps the idea of a “divine exchange” between God and us can help. This concept tells us that God pours out grace and blessings in exchange for the time we spend coming to him in prayer or caring for the people in our lives.

When you make a purchase, you are exchanging some of your money for an item that is of a similar value. You don’t buy a package of apples for five hundred dollars; you might spend a few dollars, because that’s an even exchange.

But when it comes to making an exchange with God, there is no equal comparison of value. If you give him just fifteen minutes of your day in prayer, he will take that short amount of time and give you a sixty- or ninetyfold return. If you give a homeless man so much as a couple of dollars and a warm smile, you will have the reward of meeting Jesus himself through that man.

This is how marvelous the divine exchange is. God rewards us immensely every time we pray and every time we give of ourselves in his name. In a sense, our prayer, our obedience, and our acts of service are all ways that we can open the door and invite Jesus in. And with every opening, Jesus comes to us with an even greater portion of grace. His gifts far outweigh our small offerings of our time and talents.

The Divine Exchange in Action. There’s the story of a young man in thirteenth-century Italy who loved the finer things in life. He liked to dress in fancy clothes and go about singing songs about brave knights rescuing damsels in distress. It was all very romantic. Then one day, as he was riding his horse down the road, he came upon a man suffering from leprosy. “The sight of lepers nauseated me beyond measure,” he later confessed. “But then God himself led me into their company, and I had pity on them.”

The young man got off his horse, kissed the man, and offered him some money. At that moment, the leper disappeared, and the young man’s heart was changed forever. “That which had seemed to me bitter was changed for me into sweetness of body and soul.” The young man was Francis of Assisi, and his encounter with the leper was the linchpin that caused his conversion.

This story of St. Francis is a beautiful illustration of the divine exchange. By showing some compassion to a man suffering from leprosy, Francis took one small step in obeying God’s command to love his neighbor as himself. And in response, God flooded him with “sweetness of body and soul.” God revealed himself to Francis through the leper, and the grace embodied in that revelation spurred Francis, not only to give his life to the Lord, but to start living with the poor and to begin a movement that changed the Church forever.

Think about St. Peter as well. He was a fisherman who made his living on the banks of the Sea of Galilee. But one day, Jesus came and asked Peter to take him just offshore in his boat so that Jesus could speak to a growing crowd of people. After speaking to the crowd, Jesus told Peter to drop his nets into the sea. Protesting that there were no fish to be had, Peter agreed nevertheless. “What have I got to lose?” he probably asked himself. Imagine Peter’s surprise when his nets became so filled with fish that they nearly burst! Surely this was no ordinary preacher!

But this was just the beginning of Peter’s experience of the divine exchange. When they got back to shore, Peter knelt before Jesus and said, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8). He knew he didn’t deserve to be in the presence of someone as holy as Jesus. But Jesus would have none of it. Instead, he made Peter his chief apostle and called him to lead the entire Church. Do you see the exchange here? Peter made one small step of faith, and Jesus took that step and gave Peter a whole new life in exchange. He gave him a life of joy and freedom from sin. He gave him a life of intimacy with God and the promise of eternal life in heaven. All because Peter dropped his nets.

Both Sts. Peter and Francis tell us that God is willing to give us “far more than all we ask or imagine” if we just open the door to him a little bit (Ephesians 3:20). Along with thousands of other saints and heroes of the faith, they show us that God can never be outdone in generosity.

A Prayerful Exchange. But it’s not just the saints who can experience the divine exchange. The promise is for all of us. Jesus wants us to experience this divine exchange, and one of the best ways to begin is in prayer. Let’s look at how we pray the Rosary as an example.

There are two different ways that we can recite our Hail Marys in each decade. We can just repeat the words ten times, or we can try to open the door of our hearts. If you want to make your Rosary an invitation to Jesus, you will have to go beyond a simple recitation. You will have to slow down a bit and ponder each mystery. It’s the act of pondering in God’s presence that will open the door of your heart. By slowing down this way, you are asking the Holy Spirit to open your eyes and help you see into the mystery more deeply. You are also giving the Spirit the chance to show you how that mystery can move your heart to love God a little bit more.

Similarly, when you are reading Scripture, you can just read through a chapter, or you can slow down and ask the Spirit to show you how that passage applies to your life. You can even ask him to give you some small insight into his own thoughts and desires as you read. In the divine exchange, the Holy Spirit will enlighten you—perhaps with a new insight into Jesus, perhaps with a deeper sense of God’s love for you, or maybe even with the sense to go out and do something like try to repair a wounded relationship or show your spouse a little more affection.

How will we know when the divine exchange is happening? Usually with a sense of God’s love or of God’s mercy. Or you might find in yourself a desire to love Jesus more. You might catch yourself acting differently—being more patient or more cheerful or more kind.

Come and Drink! We are no different from the apostles and the saints. Like us, they were also tempted to reduce the life that God wanted them to live. But they kept opening the door and inviting Jesus to come in. That was their secret, and it can be ours as well.

Jesus longs to lift each of us up from perishable to imperishable, from natural to spiritual (1 Corinthians 15:53-55). Every day is a new opportunity to open the door and ask him to do this. Every day is a new opportunity to engage in the divine exchange and see how Jesus can change our hearts. Every day, Jesus calls to us, “You who have no money, come, buy grain and eat. Come, buy grain without money, wine and milk without cost!” (Isaiah 55:1). Let’s take him up on the offer.