When Good Rule Followers Miss the Point.

How much of what we do as Catholics is clinging to human tradition?  How much of it fits the definition of “good religion” in the second reading?

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this:
to care for orphans and widows in their affliction
and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”

Considering where we are as a church today, there’s no question we should be examining our institutions, heiracrhy, and our purpose as a people of God.  Today,  I hear Jesus calling the first Christians to stop worrying so much about the minutiae of the letter of the old mosaic laws, and start focusing on the reality of where our troubles and failings come from; they come from within us.  Sound familiar?  I thought so.  So what do we do?

The first thing we ought to be doing more of, is being “hearers of the word.”  We must be better hearers/readers/audio-book-listeners of the Bible.  Growing up Catholic, I was told we read the whole bible every three years through a three year rotation.  That’s not exactly true.  If you were to go to mass every single day my best internet research says we get through something like 80% of the New Testament… so if you’re like me and don’t remember the last weekday mass you went to, think about how much of Christ we’re not getting.  There’s no way we can know the way if we’re not exposing ourselves to “the way.”

Here’s the good news though; if you think your Catholic faith is complicated, get ready to be shocked at the simplicity of Christ.  When he could righteously accuse, exclude, or condemn, he doesn’t.  He welcomes, forgives, and accepts people without excusing our shortcomings.  Maybe most importantly, He gives us perspective when we miss the big picture and get wrapped around the axle on little things as He does in today’s Gospel.

Today, the Pharisees are upset that the disciples are flouting the old laws of ritual cleansing before eating.  Beyond the Ten Commandments, there’s over 600 other laws pertaining to every aspect of a good Jew’s life.  These scribes and Pharisees from Jerusalem.  These are the big dogsfrom the big city, and they know what they’re talking about.  According to the law, they’re not wrong.  Christ then gives us some perspective.   He points out how hypocritical they’re being using Isaiah’s own words.

“Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written:
This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines human precepts.

You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.”

The Pharisees are teaching their “human precepts” as godly doctrine.  With all the tradition we’re steeped in as Catholics, it’s a worthy question to ask how much of what we do within our institutions are either not rooted in Christ’s way at best, and at worst are antithetical to growing His kingdom.

If there’s any question as to what kind of evils that we should be guarding against, he spells it out, simply, and in no uncertain terms.  We should look inward at ourselves.  None of us are exempt. Every single member of our church from the Pope to the church-goer (or those of us ‘bad Catholics’ who don’t go to mass every Sunday too) should be looking at ourselves.

“From within people, from their hearts,
come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder,
adultery, greed, malice, deceit,
licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly.
All these evils come from within and they defile.”

So that’s what evil is and where it comes from… so what are we supposed to do?  Look no further than the second reading.

“Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you
and is able to save your souls. Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves.”

Let’s do, and let’s read it, more than what we hear on Sunday.

-John Bielamowicz

Here are today’s readings if you missed them.