From the Pastor's Desk
Today’s readings explain what true religion is.
It is not simply a scrupulous, external observance of rules, laws, traditions and rituals. It is a loving, obedient relationship with God expressed in obeying His Commandments, worshipping Him, recognizing His presence in other human beings and rendering them loving and humble service. Prayers, rituals, Sacraments and religious practices only help us to practice this true religion in our daily lives.
The first reading explains that religion is a Covenant relationship with a caring, providing and protecting God, fostered by keeping His Commandments given through Moses. God gave Israel the Law so that the Israelites might keep their Covenant with Yahweh and thank Him for His love and fidelity to His Chosen People. The Law was also intended to keep them a united, holy and intelligent nation, proud of their powerful, protective, single God.
In the second reading, St. James defines true religion as keeping the word of God and doing His will by helping the needy, the poor and the weak in the community. He challenges Christians to become doers of the word, not merely hearers.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus describes true religion as serving God and all His children with a pure and holy heart. The Gospel explains the encounter of Jesus with the Sanhedrin observers and the Pharisees who had been sent to assess his unique, controversial teachings. These experts had found Jesus’ teachings an open violation of the “Traditions of the Elders, and his implied and spoken claims “blasphemous. They also noticed that Jesus’ disciples omitted the required ritual washing before meals. It was in the fifth century BC that the scribes started adding oral traditions as interpretations and practical applications of the Mosaic Law. The Pharisees observed them and insisted that all the Jews should do so. The original noble purpose was to sanctify the daily lives of the people, making them “holy as God is holy” (“You are a priestly kingdom, a holy nation” -- Ex 19: 6), and different in lifestyle from their pagan neighbors. Jesus uses the occasion as a teachable moment to give them the following lessons: 1) Don’t teach human doctrines as dogmas of Faith. 2) Sincerity of heart, internal disposition, purity and holiness are more important than mere external ritual observances. 3) Keep your heart holy as it is the source of sins, vices and evil habits. The observance of traditions and of washing rituals does not correct the internal motivations and inclinations that really defile people. 4) External piety without internal holiness is hypocrisy.
1) We need to learn and keep the spirit of the Church’s laws and ritual practices. For example, our Sunday obligation is intended to allow us to worship God in the parish community, to offer our lives to God, to ask His pardon for sins, to thank God for His blessings and to receive Divine life and strength from Him in Holy Communion. Our daily family prayers are meant to thank God for his blessings, to present the family's needs before God, to ask pardon for sins, to maintain the spirit of unity and love in the family and to keep close relationship with God.
2) Let us avoid the tendency to become cafeteria Christians that is, to choose certain Commandments and Church laws to follow, and to ignore the others as we choose certain food items and ignore others in a cafeteria.
"Put your hand in Jesus' hand": For almost 50 years Mother Teresa worked in the slums of Calcutta, India. She worked among the most forsaken people on earth. You and I would recoil from most of the people that she touched every day – the dispossessed, the downtrodden, the diseased, the desperate. And yet, everybody who met Mother Teresa remarked on her warm smile. How, after almost 50 years of working in conditions like that did she keep a warm smile on her face? Mother explains that it is interesting. "When I was leaving home in Yugoslavia at age of 18 to become a nun, my mother told me something beautiful and very strange”. She said, 'You go put your hand in Jesus’ hand and walk along with him.'" And that was the secret of Mother Teresa's life ever after. (Rev. King Duncan). Many of us here have good jobs, we live in nice homes, and we have easy situations. But we don't have the warm smile on our faces that this little nun, working in the most desperate situation imaginable, had on her face. What's the difference? It may be that we've never put our hand in Jesus’ hand. It may be that we have him only on our lips as St. James remarks in the second reading and as Jesus remarks in today’s Gospel.