Friday, August 31, 2012

The World of the Heart

Reflections on the Readings

Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 2, 2012 - Year B

By Dennis S. Hankins

Readings For This Sunday

The World of the Heart

Jesus said to them, "Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, 'This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.'  (Mark 7:6-7)

Jeremiah, the prophet, bewildered by the sin of his people, concluded: "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9) Jeremiah explains that the Lord searches the heart and mind.  Without fail we reap what we sow; no one escapes the fruit of the heart.  Many scriptures exhort us to guard our heart and to meditate upon God's word so that we might not sin against God. (Proverbs 4:23; Psalm 119:11) Every virtue or vice first takes shape within the world of the heart.  What follows is either trash or treasure. 

I heard a lot of 'holiness preaching' in the Pentecostal church as a kid.  Sometimes there was a misplaced emphasis on sleeveless blouses and short skirts and men with long hair.  Holiness in that vein stressed the importance of the outward appearance.  The error of that type of preaching is evident and lacks in theological and doctrinal soundness.  It creates an illusion of holiness and ignores what God does not ignore.  While we may judge by the eye, God still looks on the heart.  And the list of vices Jesus enumerates in today's gospel is just one of several such lists in the New Testament.  And the things we find in these lists deal with sin.  Real sin.  

The first reading speaks of the way God prepared his people to enter the promised land.  He gives them his commandments and law and enjoins his people to be attentive to his words.  His word will guide them and instruct them on how to live justly with one another.  Faithful adherence meant never diluting or dismissing any of the decrees God gives his people to follow.  No one is exempt.  Such wisdom and understanding that God's word gives draws the acclamation of the nations, for what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the Lord, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him?  Or what great nation has decrees and statutes that are just as is God's law?   God's word is seen as instructive and life giving.  Who lives in God's presence, the holy mountain?  Today's Psalm answers that question:  Whoever walks blamelessly and does justice; who thinks the truth in his heart and slanders not with his tongue.  Everyone who treats his neighbor right, abhors sin, honors the Lord, lives in God's love.  

The reading from James continues the theme.  What is good and perfect is the gift of God's word that comes to us from above.  The gospel invites us to a new birth.  The word of truth is a light to our path and a lamp to our feet.  The people of God are a new creation, a new humanity, having humbly embraced the word God planted in us.  Following the teachings of the Church we discover a road map to heaven.  And James exhorts that we must never be just listeners to God's word.  We must be doers so as to avoid deception and self delusion.  

What is genuine old time religion?  Timothy Cardinal Dolan gave the closing prayer at the Republican National Convention Thursday night, August 30th.  In his prayer he describes true faith and religion.  He asked that we might have the grace to stand in solidarity with all those who suffer.  "May we strive," he continued, "to include your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free in the production and prosperity of a people so richly blessed."  

The law of love is profoundly rich and brings God's presence and help to those we befriend.  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.  It's not exactly rocket science.  Hungry people need food.  Thirsty people need water.  Lonely people need a friend.  Prisoners need a visit.  Sick people need medicine and prayer and hope.  The powerful work of charity is a work that is never finished.  

In today's Gospel, the Pharisees forgot what is true religion.  An add on ritual of hand washing before meals was an appearance of holiness.  The tradition of the elders diluted the true meaning and teaching of the Law.  The disciples were not eating with unwashed hands.  It is not a violation of proper table etiquette the disciples are chided for.  They are guilty of a particular form of religious defilement; a defilement defined and regulated outside of the revelation of God's word.  It is an appearance thing.  Accordingly, for the Pharisees, points are lost with such violations while they neglect the weightier matters of the law, justice, mercy and faith.  

The world of the heart is big.  We understand what is in our hearts when we enter our closet of prayer and close our eyes and say, "Search me, O God, and know my heart!  Try me and know my thoughts!  And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!" (Psalm 139:23, 24)  This prayer is a good way to prepare for the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  Approaching confession with this prayer will help anyone to make a good confession.  The God of all love is faithful and just and in his love he forgives us our sins and heals our heart.  

Is your heart troubled?  Jesus already knows what is in our hearts.  He knows the power of evil and darkness that threatens us and entices us.  Ask for the Sacrament of Reconciliation as often as you need it.  In this Sacrament of Love there is healing and forgiveness and power to live with a heart that beats with love for God and neighbor.  Amen.  

Dennis Hankins is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN.  Prior to his uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. You can email him at   His website is:   

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