22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time B – Fr. Rick Sherman – August 29, 2021
Dt 4:1-2, 6-8; Ps 15:2-5; Jas 1:18; Mk 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Remember that this weekend is the 5th Sunday of the month and when we take up a special collection for our charity account to be dispersed for local charity needs. Please be your usual generous selves.
While reflecting on these scriptures this week I was very preoccupied with all the news and the heightened level of trauma and crisis in the world. Schools are adjusting to another round of Covid, wildfires keep burning spreading smoke for thousands of miles, major floods, rental subsidies running out, and of course the increased violence in Afghanistan. Everything is so complex that it’s difficult to know how we can impact any given situation in the near term. Obviously this is not the world we envisioned and hoped for a couple years ago. I was reflecting on what we have been praying for over the past few months and years?
(Also, know that this homily is available at kanabcatholicchurch.org for further easy references to sources and review of ideas expressed).
The first reading from Deuteronomy today tells of a nation whose God is personal and close whenever they call upon Him. Lots of news and commentary these days is speculating on how our nation, the United States, is perceived within and around the world. Should we be sending more vaccine to developing countries? More relief to the most recent series of catastrophes in Haiti? Allowing more entry to our southern borders? Or less? Should we have gotten out of Afghanistan in a more orderly way and rescued everyone who wants to leave that country? It would seem that we are not living up to anyone’s expectations. Yet we are still one of the preferred destinations for Muslims escaping the terror of a Muslim culture and many others fleeing desperate circumstances.
Needless to say our place and role in the world is complex and very ambiguous.
But are we perceived as a wise and intelligent people? Deuteronomy tells us today that a wise and intelligent nation is one which observes the statutes and decrees of the Lord…. Carefully. Not some loosey goosey sense of equality and diversity, but according to the Lord’s ‘statutes and decrees.’ That sounds fairly specific and complex.
The Old Testament always reminds us that we are called to the Lord not just as individuals or even as a Church, but indeed as a nation. Moses is talking today specifically to Israel who prefigures Christ, who instituted the Eucharist and established the Church, which now has 1.3 billion members scattered throughout every continent on the globe. The Church is not supposed to establish a theocracy in the countries, that is, a country ruled and directed by the Catholic Church; but, each country where the Church is established should be strongly influenced by a moral people who are actually living by the statutes and decrees of the Lord. A biblically ’wise and intelligent’ people.
Observe (the statutes and decrees of the Lord) carefully, for thus will you give evidence of your wisdom and intelligence to the nations, who will hear of all these statutes and say, ‘This great nation is truly a wise and intelligent people.’ 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?
The second reading today from the Letter of James describes a people guided by a religion that is pure and undefiled with a particular emphasis on caring for orphans and widow, the most vulnerable. Catholic Social Teaching, some of our guiding statutes and decrees, uses the phrase, “A preferential Option for the Poor and Vulnerable.’
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.
He summoned the crowd again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile.
“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.”
AND NOW TO THE REAL POINT. All this righteousness within a nation must come from individuals who are righteous and indeed ‘pure and undefiled.’ This of course draws us into the complexity of human nature itself. Jesus tells us in the gospel today that it is from “WITHIN us, from OUR HEARTS, come evil thoughts come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile.”
CCC: 2563 The heart is the dwelling-place where I am, where I live; according to the Semitic or Biblical expression, the heart is the place “to which I withdraw.” The heart is our hidden center, beyond the grasp of our reason and of others; only the Spirit of God can fathom the human heart and know it fully. The heart is the place of decision, deeper than our psychic drives. It is the place of truth, where we choose life or death. It is the place of encounter, because as image of God we live in relation: it is the place of covenant.
So what are the implications of ‘undefilment’ and ‘impurity’ coming from the heart? The Catechism of the Catholic Church says this about the heart….
“…in naming the source of prayer, Scripture speaks sometimes of the soul or the spirit, but most often of the heart (more than a thousand times). According to Scripture, it is the heart that prays. If our heart is far from God, the words of prayer are in vain… It goes on to say, “The heart is our hidden center, beyond the grasp of our reason and of others; only the Spirit of God can fathom the human heart and know it fully. The heart is the place of decision, deeper than our psychic drives.”
This portion of the Catechism is clearly drawing in part from the words of Jesus and the Prophet Isaiah when He is making a clear distinction between human thought and God’s thoughts.
Given the complexity of human nature, we need to give the Spirit lots of time and space to ‘fathom our hearts’ and then we need to listen to the Spirit. We need the knowledge that comes from Scripture and competent guidance or otherwise we just start making things up. Before we know it we are a nation full of people just making up our own rules. In a very diverse nation like we have in the United States, this spells chaos. We would find it impossible to be a ‘wise and intelligent’ people in any biblically significant way.
(At this point I demonstrated how a balloon will inflate in a sort of backward and distorted way if the neck is stretched so as to constrict the flow of air during the initial stage of inflation). The balloon might represent our souls that are being formed and shaped at the point of conception, even while we are in our mother’s wombs. Since we are made in the image and likeness of God our souls will only develop properly if we are in an environment where we are treated like little ‘god-beings’ destined to be heirs of the Kingdom. Especially since we are ‘marked’ for God at our baptism in a way “beyond the grasp of our reason”, our souls ‘expect’ to be ‘fully inflated’ from that point on. If they are not, we act out in any infinite variety of disordered ways. Chaos!
So what might be some ACTION STEPS for the week?
Join us in praying Psalm 36 (see today’s bulletin) daily at your convenience in order to give your heart time to grieve at a level that helps provide some healing.
Consider reading part IV of the Catechism on prayer. Make it a daily meditation.
Also, pick up a brochure on the Ignatian Exercises which helps facilitate this deeper journey into the heart. A program offered through our Diocese; more info to come on that process.
As we now enter more deeply into this Sacred Mystery, let’s ask God to help us open a little more fully to His probing Spirit.