22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
13th Sunday After Pentecost
September 3, 2006
Reflections on the Readings by Dennis Hankins
Readings: Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8; Psalm 15:2-5
James 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27; Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Theme: A Change of Heart
The evil that affects humanity is described by Jesus as a serious defect of the heart.
In the first reading Moses is teaching Israel how to be a wise and intelligent people in the land the Lord is giving them. The commandments of the Lord are absolute. Nothing can be added to them. Nor can anything be dismissed. Moses instructs the people to ‘observe them carefully.’
In the process of salvation history the law of the Lord is given ‘line upon line, precept upon precept.’ (Isaiah 28:10) Every ‘word of God’ in the history of salvation is meant to penetrate the dark domain of the heart. Man is told he cannot live by bread alone. (Matthew 4:4) Nor is what goes into our bellies is that which defiles us. And to be hearers only of the word is self-delusion. We are encouraged to receive warmly and welcome humbly the word that has been planted in us.
It is good to remember that the spirituality of the church always is a result of holiness of heart. The confrontation we resist in ourselves is the knowledge that the heart is deceptively wicked. It is here we know our real separation from the Lord. It is here we know true communion with the Lord. All of the great spiritual fathers of the church speak of this. It is from them we learn the possibility of Christian perfection and Contemplation of the Triune God.
St. Paul asked the Colossian Christians, If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations, do not handle, do not taste, do no touch, (here referring to things which all perish as they are used) according to human precepts and doctrines. These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting rigor of devotion and self-abasement and severity to the body, but they are of no value in checking the indulgence of the flesh. (Colossians 2:20-23)
It’s not an uncommon belief in the family of mankind that personal salvation and holiness is a matter of appearances. However, if we cover most of our flesh with clothing but remain lewd, lawless, sexually unrestrained, deceive, blaspheme and murder, we are truly defiled and need not a new wardrobe but a change of heart. Such behavior is out of a heart that is far from God. The religion of appearances is lip service only and a worship that is not true worship. The real ascetic life is about obeying the commandments and being perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)
True holiness of heart will certainly inspire modesty of dress. But at the center of a pure heart is a love like the love with which it is loved. The great contemplatives through the ages taught that only like knows like. Beloved, we are God's children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (I John 3:2) In that contemplation of the holiness of God we learn that God loves the sinner, the orphan, the widows and the poor.
Let us pray:
O Lord our Father, may our heart be ever more like the sacred heart of Jesus. Grant that we may ever love you and love others as you have loved us. Adorned by your Holy Spirit may we be truly holy and inspired to practice a pure religion that heals the broken hearted and befriends the lonely. Amen.