Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 29, 2021 – Year B
Readings: Dt 4:1-2, 6-8 / Ps 15 / Jas 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27 / Mk 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
by Deacon Barry Welch, Guest Homilist
Well, these Pharisees – what’s the deal with them? I think one of their major purposes is that they wanted to belittle and undercut what Jesus was doing. He knew what they were trying to do; He knew their hearts. But they didn’t have anything on Jesus, so they decided to attack His followers. If His followers weren’t able to do the simplest of rituals, then He can’t be all that, right? That’s where they’re coming from.
But what the Pharisees purposefully overlooked is all the things that Jesus had done and was doing. For example, in Chapter 6, the chapter just before the one we read from Mark, Jesus did these four things: One, He sent out the twelve with nothing and they drove out demons and healed the sick everywhere they went. Two, He fed the five thousand with only two loaves and two fishes, and had twelve wicker baskets left over. Three, He walked on water, all the way over to a boat, got in the boat, and calmed the winds and the seas. And four, He went about all the towns and villages, all around the countryside, and everywhere He entered, the people brought their sick into the marketplace and begged Him that they might just have the opportunity to touch the tassels on His cloak, and that they would be healed, and all that did were healed.
And here the Pharisees are, “Yeah, yeah, whatever. But do your followers wash their hands before they eat?” The Pharisees didn’t appreciate the good things that God was doing in the person of Jesus Christ. They were most interested in looking for the little mistakes, the little errors, the little things that everyone ends up doing one time or another, to kind of pick apart His ministry. Thank goodness that doesn’t happen today, right?
But Jesus knows where they are coming from, and He calls them out, quoting their own scripture from the Prophet Isaiah. But He calls them out not to condemn religious rituals and the law of Moses, because He came to fulfill that law, not to abolish it. He called them out for misusing the rituals, for applying rules without thinking about the intention and the spirit behind them, and using those rules to keep the people under their thumbs and their power.
Jesus, in calling them out, is reminding them back then and reminding us today that we don’t make ourselves holy by the rituals or the things that we do. We don’t make ourselves holy; we become holy when we allow the Holy Spirit to change us and to change the direction of our hearts toward Him, and the actions and the rituals are the result.
The direction of our hearts: that’s what really matters to Jesus. The direction of our hearts has led us to take time out of our week, time out of this beautiful Sunday, and it led us here to the ritual, to the Mass. We say it’s the source and summit of our Christian faith, so here we are. Do we give too much credence to the rituals and actions at Mass? Do we give too little credence to the rituals and actions at Mass? Who decides what is trivial and insignificant versus what is important and integral with our rituals? Is it the Church? Is it the pastor? Pastoral council? Each of us individually makes our own determination of what is important and what is not. We could go down a long road there; I’m going to keep that thought for another time. If you have me back, I’ll talk about that one.
But what I want to talk about is the quality of the rituals at Mass. The quality of the rituals at Mass is directly proportional to how we think and ponder and meditate and pray about the intention behind them. I like to say it’s not the WHAT that we’re doing, but the WHY that we are doing them. Slow down. Be present. And really listen and pay attention to what we are saying and what we are doing.
We are all here for a personal encounter with Jesus Christ, our Savior. What has He done? What is He doing now? He suffered, died, and was buried for all of us. He was resurrected from the dead, creating the path for all of us to eternal life. And His work continues through all the people of God. All were created through Him, all were created for Him. He is before all else that is; in Him everything continues in being.
And yet, sometimes when we come to Mass, we recite the words, we sing the songs, we do our movements and postures, but are we there – fully present? We are in the presence of the most important person who ever walked on the earth. Our relationship is about to become more personal than any relationship could possibly ever be. And yet our minds, and our hearts, and our postures, and our physical being – are we present in the moment, are we really paying attention?
Praise be to God that we are all here. I know that’s difficult. There are so many distractions in our lives, especially for young families. There are so many cultural tugs that want to chip us away from that personal relationship with Christ, and the world out there can be confusing and dangerous and scary, sucking hope away from us. It’s a world that desires to undercut us as followers, and yet all of us have overcome that to be here today. Praise God for that!
So here’s a couple of things from the Mass that struck me as I was preparing for today. The sign of the cross – Father leads us in that the very first thing. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. How many times do we Catholics do that in the course of a Mass, a prayer session, dinner, or the week? Are we truly thinking about what we are calling to mind there? Where is our heart, where is the direction of our heart? Another thing is contrition. Lord have mercy. . . on me, a sinner. Lord have mercy on me. Where is the direction of our hearts? Glory to God in the highest – are we thinking about that? And the creed – our creed is two thousand years old, its awesome inspirational text summarizing our foundational beliefs. Where’s our heart?
Here’s another one: The priest begins, “The Lord be with you.” And we respond, “And with your spirit.” So what’s happening here? When Father says, “The Lord be with you,” he’s expressing his desire that the dynamic activity of God’s spirit be given to the people of God – all of us, enabling us to do the work of transforming the world that God has entrusted to us. Isn’t that fantastic? He’s saying that the Lord be with us so that we can carry out God’s mission. I think it’s wonderful. And in response, we say, “And with your spirit.” And in doing so, we are ensuring Father Nixon that the same divine assistance of God’s spirit will be with him, more specifically to help the priest use the charismatic gifts given to him at his ordination to carry out his role in the Church’s mission.
The Mass is a mystery. A mystery is something about which we can always learn more. Like the Pharisees, are we overlooking what Jesus has done and is doing? Are we listening to what we are saying and singing? Are we feeling what we are doing with our bodies and postures? And most importantly, is our heart transforming its direction toward Him? Not always, right? So we need prayers; we need assistance from God to be aware of Him in our lives every day and especially in the Mass, the highlight of our week.
That’s why I’m going to repeat something that Fr. Nixon spoke at the very beginning of Mass. It’s called the Collect, and its purpose is to summarize the particular purpose of that Mass. “God of might, giver of every good gift, put into our hearts the love of your name. By deepening our sense of reverence, you may nurture in us what is good, and by your watchful care, keep safe what you have nurtured. To God be glory, always and forever. Amen.”