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Pastor's Letter 20210829 - 29 August 2021 - Human and Divine Elements of Religion

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August 29th, 2021

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time


A Message from Father Michael

Today’s Theme:   “Human and Divine Elements of Religion”

Reflections on Today’s Scripture

Never meant to be an end in itself, the gift of the law was intended to express and to safeguard the relationship of Israel and Yahweh (Deuteronomy.)  

If perspectives become clouded, visions can be lost and the basic principle overshadowed by trivia (Mark.)  

To preserve the value and meaning of a gift, especially a God-given gift, it is best to look beyond it to the giver Himself (James.)    

...from P.D. Sanchez, “The Word We Celebrate”

In our First Reading (Deuteronomy 4:1-8,) we read how Israel was offered several motivating factors for faithfully observing the Law of Moses (Torah:) life, land, and wisdom. (The Torah is considered to be a "Jewish national treasure.")  Israel’s law was thought to be its claim to fame and fortune, distinguishing it from all other nations.  Ancestors of the Judeo-Christian faith considered it to be almost a “living entity,” not created or formulated by human hands or minds, but given by God as an act of divine favor and blessing.  Torah was a source of wisdom and strength, thought to bestow upon Israel not only life but even an identity as a people. Keeping the law was considered a means of intimate union with God, in His personal involvement with His people. The prohibition from adding or subtracting from the Law was, perhaps, why the Pharisees of Jesus’ day placed such exaggerated emphasis on it—regarding it as complete and eternally valid. The controversy between the relationship between the Gospel and the Law remains a source of lively debate even today.  

In our Second Reading (James 1:17-27.)  James attempts to correct the misplaced emphases on Paul’s thought and accentuates the practical and obligatory aspects of the Gospel, calling it the “perfect law of freedom.”  (It is noteworthy that this is the motto for my diocese—see the Bishop’s Crest, in the masthead, above.)  Unlike those who postulate “salvation by faith alone,” James understood “works” as the “doing aspect” of a lively faith. Attributing all good gifts to God, the author described the Word spoken in truth, as God-sent and life-giving.  In the Christian context, this reaches back to include the Law and the Prophets, but understands those as announcing a greater Word—that of God’s saving revelation spoken by Jesus, and the Good News about Him.  Those who open themselves to receive this Word in Baptism are called to speak it forth in their lives through deeds of faith. The “Traditions of the Elders,” had become, by Jesus’ day, an overwhelming compilation of unwritten legal interpretations of the Law.  Having become so “cumbersome,” due to the minutiae of interpretations, it was like a “wall,” separating and alienating people from God, and from true religion.  

In today's Gospel selection (Mark 7:1-23,) Jesus is heard to go beyond the oral law to challenge of the basic principles of the written Law (i.e., the notion of clean and unclean—ref. Leviticus 11-16.)  Jesus brought a new light for perceiving God to His world; and a new spirit of freedom in which to love and serve Him.  In that sense and in that Spirit, He defended His disciples for their “untraditional” behavior.  

The Primacy of the Heart

Modern education attaches more importance to “the head” than to “the heart.”  Indeed, “the heart” hardly gets any consideration.  We make more of a “clever child” than we do of “a good child.”  The world of business and politics typically rewards cleverness rather than goodness.  And yet, in our everyday language, we acknowledge the primacy of the heart, to wit:  

• We often judge a person “by the heart.”  One of the most damning things we can say about anyone is that “they have no heart…” or that they have a “cold heart;” or, even a “hard heart.”  One of the best things we can say about someone is, “they are warm-hearted,” or “soft-hearted.”  

• We judge the degree of commitment someone displays to some goal in terms like, “their heart is not in it;” or “they are only half-hearted.”  As a result, such a person most likely will quit pursuing it.  Even if they continue, we expect less than their best effort toward its completion.  Someone who is considered to have their “heart in it;” or who is “whole-hearted” in their effort, would be expected to persevere and put their best self forward to the task.  

• We describe sorrow and joy in terms of the heart:  We might say someone’s “heart was broken;” or they went away “with a heavy heart.”  In contrast, we expect only good things to come from a person with a heart that is “overflowing with joy;” or who has a “light heart.”  

• Burdens and wounds are described in terms of the heart, when we say a person has a “broken heart.”  Someone with a “heavy heart” would be expected to be somewhat depressed.  

Our lesson in today’s Gospel, first of all, concerns our worship.  Merely paying “lip-service” describes a person who simply parrots the words of worship, without any fervent meaning.  

Secondly, we consider a corrupt heart, meaning someone who is “bad at the core;” vs a “pure hearted” person, who exemplifies the opitomé of goodness.  

We refer to a person’s “heart” as the source from which all our thoughts, words and deeds flow.  The Pharisees paid more attention to the “outside” of a person than to the “inside.” They were more preoccupied with having clean hands than having clean hearts….

It’s the heart that matters, but only God can see what is in ours.  Only He can make it into what it should be.  

Jesus told us that the source of evil is within us.  It has its roots in the heart.  We can’t guard ourselves from it by separating ourselves from others.  All those horrible things He lists, and about which we read in the media—fornication, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, indecency, envy, slander, pride—all these start inside a person.  Their seeds are within all of us.  Those are the things that make a person unclean in the eyes of God.  This is a very disturbing truth, and one we ignore at our own peril.  A great problem of our time is our failure to know ourselves, to recognize evil and deal with it within ourselves. Yet there is a kind of comfort and freedom in knowing and accepting this humbling truth.

Our modern world is preoccupied with cleanness of body—as exhibited by all the ads we see for soaps, perfumes and body washes.  Also, there is great concern about the environment—with the quality of the water we drink, the air we breathe, etc.  Of course, our environment is, absolutely, important; but there is another environment that is even more important—our moral environment.  Evil is the worst kind of pollution of all!

But if the source of evil is within us, so also is the source of good.  All our thoughts, words and deeds flow from our hearts like water flowing from a hidden spring.  If the spring is clean, then all that flows form it will be clean.  It is up to us to purify the source!    

May God Richly Bless You!

“Keep your heart pure.  A pure heart is necessary to see God in each other.   If you see God in each other, and there is love for each other, then there is peace.”  

~~Mother Teresa~~   

That's Where the Joy Comes From.mp3


To view a live stream of today's Holy Mass, click here:  https://youtu.be/x4ZdLHcBJN4

Edited by Father Michael
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