Pastoral Sharings: "Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time"

WeeklyMessage Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS  
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Posted for August 30, 2015

We should regard the readings today as an extended 
meditation on the role of law in our lives. We are talking 
of course of religious laws not secular ones.

Actually in the beginning there was just law as there was 
no clear difference between the religious and the secular; this distinction is something that has only come about gradually through history.

Even at the time of Jesus in Judaism there was only one body of law which was enforced by the religious authorities. The little phrase at the beginning of the Gospel indicates this; the Pharisees had come down from Jerusalem –Jerusalem was the center of the Jewish faith and the source of all authority.

So this little phrase indicating that they came from Jerusalem heightens the fact that these particular Pharisees were a sort of religious police. They had come to build a case against Jesus. Even the fact that they do not openly criticize him but instead direct their focus on the behavior of his Disciples is an indication that their purposes are evil. The implication being that if the Disciples offend it becomes the responsibility of their Master.

We have here in our readings a rather good meditation on the uses and abuses of law. God issues instructions but these are not arbitrary commandments, they are given to us to help us to live in harmony with one another. These laws, the Ten Commandments, are wise injunctions for the good ordering of society. That is the main point made in the First Reading today.

However, as time passed these basic laws had been built on until, by the time of Jesus, there were 613 individual laws which the Jews were expected to follow.

The law had become oppressive and was being used by the Pharisees and others to keep themselves in a position of power over the people.

Be clear, Jesus does not dismiss the law but he condemns its misuse. And the Pharisees were certainly guilty of misusing the law and placing heavy burdens on the shoulders of the people.

The ritual hand washing before eating has its origins in the common sense practice of washing one’s hands before eating a meal, something any sensible person would do. But by the time of Jesus this custom had become incorporated into the law, it had become much more elaborate and was accompanied by prayers as a way of consecrating the whole day and all one’s actions to God.

This is fine and good, but it should not become a burden or become a reason for accepting some people and rejecting others depending on whether they observed these prescriptions or not.

Jesus cuts through all of this and turns it around and accuses the Pharisees of honoring God with lip-service while their hearts are far from him. Jesus sees the true purpose of the Pharisees, he knows that they are there to build a case against him and that their fine words about these Jewish customs are just a pretext and he gives them pretty short shrift.

Jesus points out that nothing that goes into a man can make him unclean, it is what comes out of him that makes him unclean. Jesus goes to the very core of the matter and tells us that it is not whether we fail to perform this or that pious act that makes us evil but the desires of our heart.

It is our heart that we have to look at; we have to examine the seat of our wishes and desires to see whether we conform to God’s laws or not.

I don’t want here to go through a long list of poisonous thoughts that we might have, but would rather point out that the way to really live a wholesome Christian life is to base our lives firmly on the virtues.

These are the basic ones: faith, hope and charity; but the virtues also include things like temperance, humility, justice, patience, kindness, generosity and so on.

It is by cultivating these virtues in our lives that we will be sure that we are living the kind of life that God wants. We will have moved away from doing this or that particular action and on to living a live filled with love and all the good things that God wants.

What all this comes down to is cultivating a series of particular attitudes, internal motivations which are consonant with the Christian life. It is by developing these that we will be sure that we are living a life worthy of the Gospels.

The more we live our lives like this the more we realise that it is on these virtues that all good laws are based. The good thing about this approach to law is that it does not concentrate so much on the specifics of how the law is drafted –you can do this but not that– as on the character of the individual person involved.

What we are interested in then is building up the individual person as someone who acts correctly whatever the circumstances might be. This is what goes on in the Christian family where the parents through their own example and teaching bring up their children to be people who act in a moral way in accordance with the Gospel.

We should never underestimate the importance of this Christian moral formation for the good of society and for the individual. In fact it is something that we are lacking more and more in society at large, as with the breakdown of the family more and more children are being left to their own devices and brought up without any kind of moral compass in their lives.

In our Gospel text Jesus rightly castigates the Pharisees for concentrating on trivial elements of the law because by doing this they miss the bigger picture. Those Pharisees should be asking themselves what the right thing to do is rather than looking for loopholes in the law which they can use to catch Jesus out.

The wonderful meditation from the Letter of St James gives us a very fine approach to these things in his wonderful words: “Accept and submit to the Word which has been planted in you and can save your souls.”

It is the Word of God then that should be the ultimate measure of our actions.

Digest of Articles from Catholics Blogs and Websites
August 30, 2015

Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time:

Living a Simple Faith

The Youth Group meeting was going in the wrong direction.  It was many years ago, in another parish, way before Life Teen.  The structure would be a talk, followed by a sharing among the Teens.  The topic that week was parents.  After the talk about the Fourth Commandment, the Teen sharing started descending.  Each Teen talked about how unfair his or her parents were.  “My girlfriend and I were studying for this test, and I got home fifteen minutes late, beyond my curfew.  Now I can’t go to the football game this Friday.” Etc, Etc. Then Cindy  spoke, “I don’t have any curfew.  I can come home anytime I want, even on school nights.  I don’t have to show my parents my report card.  I have no rules.”  Then she looked at everyone and burst into tears saying, “Why don’t my parents love me?”


Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Classic

Mark 7: 1–8, 14–15, 21–23

Gospel Summary

Today’s gospel reading introduces a familiar theme concerning religious observance. The Pharisees were a group of very observant Jews whose very name means in Hebrew the “separated ones.” They were declared different because they were so meticulous in their concern for even the finest details of the Mosaic Law. In fact, they even added prescriptions to this religious Law which, according to Jesus, made it burdensome and thus compromised its very purpose, which was to liberate also from the bondage of scrupulosity and spiritual pride. 


Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B—

August 30, 2015

The Pharisees ask Jesus a question about hand washing before meals and wind up being called hypocrites. What happened?

Gospel (Read Mk 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23)

St. Mark tells us that some Pharisees and scribes came out from Jerusalem to observe Jesus (He was ministering in Galilee, to the north). He had been curing many people and was attracting significant crowds (see Mk 6:53-56). However, rather than being impressed by this miraculous work, “the Pharisees and scribes questioned Him, ‘Why do your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders but instead eat a meal with unclean hands?’” It’s an odd question, considering all the others they could have asked Him. They were focused on the “tradition of the elders” concerning ritual washing—not just hands, as St. Mark tells us, but “cups and jugs and kettles and beds.” We need to understand that this “tradition of the elders” was not part of the Law of Moses. The Pharisees placed heavy emphasis on separation from Gentile culture as the only way to maintain ethnic identity while they lived under foreign domination. The elaborate washing rituals intensified this separation and need for purity, and, in Jesus’ day, had been elevated to the same status as the Law.


Fruits of Fatima? Russia plans to build tallest statue

of Jesus in the world

The statue was cast in 2013 by Tsereteli, the famous Georgian-Russian sculptor, known for his gigantic projects such as a statue of Peter the Great in Moscow and ‘The Tear of Grief’ in the United States, dedicated to the struggle against world terrorism.

The monument stands 50 meters taller than the world famous ‘Christ the Redeemer’ in Rio de Janeiro, and two meters higher than ‘The Christ the King’ in Lisbon.

Of Sunday Obligation, Harry Stovall, and Catholic Spleen

The priests call it the 5:35 p.m. Mass, and I’m partly to blame. It’s the weekend’s last liturgy at our parish, and the processional actually kicks off at 5:30. Still, many folks – like me and my family – regularly slink in several minutes later. Oh, sure, we have excuses – a lost shoe, one last bathroom trip, “Where are my car keys?!” – but there’s never any question that we’ll throw in the towel and stay home.


American Churches 20 Years from Now

For generations it’s been easy to live as a Christian in America. We have lived in a culture that largely assumed and supported Christianity or at least Christian moral principles. Even the Deists among our Founding Fathers operated within the structural framework and assumptions that undergird Christianity.

Over the past few decades, we have seen those assumptions questioned, derided, and mocked by our pop culture, media, and even our courts. What’s next for the American Christian?


Teresa of Avila on Silence in Prayer (Part II of III)

In part I of this series, I spoke about some ways that Centering Prayer and yoga propose sitting silently as a form of meditation or contemplation. Today I want to focus on St. Teresa of Avila’s teaching about silence during prayer. Did she teach the same thing as Fr. Thomas Keating and other Centering Prayer advocates, as they maintain?

Silence is an indispensable aspect of mental prayer. But the Carmelite saints speak of a different type of silence than that promoted in Centering Prayer. They also speak of specific times in our prayer when we should cultivate silence, and stages when we should be silent.


Answering Those Who Say There Is Only One Mediator

There is a common Protestant claim that there is one (sole) mediator between God and Man—Jesus. Therefore, they say, asking the saints to pray for us is useless, wrong, and maybe even sinful. Those who object, usually cite some of the following texts:


Heart Speaks to Heart

SHE DIED ANYWAY. Decay in the marrow. Radiation robbed her radiance. Fragile peals of thunder protected summer showers that watered her flowers. If the thunder don’t get you then the lightning will. Life submits to death.

My parents, Moose and Sylvia, made an odd couple, like an elephant and a tickbird. He was Oscar. She was Felix. He was Wall Street Journal, she was Better Homes and Gardens. He got expelled from college. She dropped out of high school. Syl deferred to Moose on money, retirement, banking. As head of the household he never made a decision without consulting her. A wise decision from which our entire family benefited.


Trying to be Humble

I’ve always found humility a tricky virtue.  Am I humble?  As soon as I think I am, it’s out the window, right?  “oh, and I’m really good at being humble, too…”  I’ve always struggled praying for it, because just like patience, the only way you’re going to get better is by practicing it!  So be careful when praying that litany of humility…

I used to think being humble meant not accepting compliments, although that innately rings hollow.  While at times we might not deserve what people say about us, at other times we do, and brushing off sincere compliments can often be a sign of pride rather than humility!


Doubts, Difficulties and Disobedience

My article for Aleteia this weekdiscusses the difference between genuine doubt and difficulties in the faith.

The English Cardinal and theologian, Blessed John Henry Newman wrote, “Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt.” What he means is that there is a difference between a doubt and a difficulty.


Lord, Keep Your Arm Around My Shoulder and Your Hand Over My Mouth! A Reflection on Common Sins of Speech

One of the greatest gifts given to the human person is the capacity to speak. It is also one of our greatest weaknesses. The Book of James says,

We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what he says is perfect, able to keep his whole body in check. When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, and thus we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts.


Simplify Your Life

Do you ever feel overwhelmed with all of the stress, responsibilities and challenges in your daily life? If I am honest with myself, the times I feel most anxious or stressed are usually caused by my lifelong tendency to overcomplicate things and an inclination towards “busyness”. I am grateful for the occasional insights I have into ways to address this problem and as I grow older, I recognize the wisdom of something my father often shared with me in my younger days: simplify your life.


How You Can Live in the Present Moment

Too often we fall into the trap of dwelling on the past or being anxious about the future. A consequence of this frame of mind is that we become frozen in time. We are unable to move forward because either our history haunts us or we are unwilling to make a leap of faith into the future.

This also means that we miss opportunities in the present moment. God could be calling us to do great things today, but we are too focused on a past hurt or future concern that we simply ignore what is happening right in front of us!

The key is to live in the present moment. But how does one do that?


Six Practical Steps to Catholic Joy

I recently had coffee with a fellow Catholic who gloomily shared his ongoing struggles with overtly living out his faith in the real world and reluctance to discuss his faith with others. He made it clear that going to Mass on Sunday was all he could or should be doing. Unfortunately, this is a very common tale. The conversation became really interesting and a little uncomfortable when we discussed why people become apathetic about their faith, hesitate about converting or leave the Church altogether.

It became obvious to me after a few minutes that how my coffee companion presented his faith to the world and how others view the Catholic Church may be connected.


3 Easy Steps to Show that Absolute Truth Exists

Gorgias the Nihilist, an ancient Greek philosopher, was said to have argued the following four points:

1.Nothing exists;
2.Even if something exists, nothing can be known about it; and
3.Even if something can be known about it, knowledge about it can’t be communicated to others.
4.Even if it can be communicated, it cannot be understood.

Of course, if you can understand his argument, he’s wrong. So too, many modern thinkers hold to positions that, fall apart into self-refutation when critically examined.

Today, I want to look at three such popular claims. In showing their inherent contradictions, I hope to show why we can (and must) affirm that knowable, non-empirically testable, absolute truths exist.


To Win the War Against Abortion, We Must Fight a Battle Against Apathy

This past Saturday I was asked to coordinate a local rally to protest Planned Parenthood’s sale of baby body parts. I was surprised by the positive turnout, as our city is relatively small and our weekly prayer vigils in front of Planned Parenthood are also small in number. However, even though around 180 came out to protest, the response from those who drove by was minimal. In fact, it almost seemed like we were invisible.

Ever since the release of the videos detailing the inhuman activity of Planned Parenthood, I have been amazed by the lack of concern by the average person. Many have heard about the videos but few genuinely care either way. They do not oppose the videos, nor do they support them. This was revealed to me explicitly on Saturday, as most who drove by did not have any reaction. Most simply kept looking forward and ignored us. No one stopped to show their support and hardly anyone stopped to show their opposition. They simply did not care enough to take a stance.


Biblical Teaching on the Use of Colorful and Harsh Language

In the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord warns of using uncivil and/or hateful words such as “Raqa” and “fool.” And yet the same Lord Jesus often used very strong language toward some of His opponents, sometimes calling them names such as vipers and hypocrites.

We live in a world that often insists on the use of gentle language and euphemisms. While doing so is not a bad thing, we also tend to manifest a kind of thin-skinned quality and a political correctness that is too fussy about many things, often taking personally what is not meant personally.

What is the overall teaching of Scripture when it comes to this sort of colorful language? Are there some limits and ground rules? Let’s take a look.


What Is the Devil’s Favorite Sin? Pride, Says an Exorcist

MADRID — Is an exorcist afraid? What is the devil’s favorite sin? These and other questions were tackled in a recent interview with Dominican Father Juan José Gallego, an exorcist from the Archdiocese of Barcelona in Catalonia, Spain.

It has been nine years since Father Gallego was appointed as exorcist. In an interview conducted by the Spanish daily El Mundo, the priest said that, in his experience, pride is the sin the devil likes the most.

“Have you ever been afraid?” the interviewer asked.


Ask Fr. Mike: Why Does God Allow People to Commit Evil Acts?

Dear Fr. Mike: If God knows everything, then he would have known what Hitler would do. In that case, why didn’t God just not make him?

Fr. Mike: Often when we talk about “Hitler,” we are really talking about the question of evil and suffering in the world. Even more to the point, we are talking about the reality of evil and suffering in my life. What sounds like an abstract problem is more truly a cry from a heart that sees and experiences anguish. What does it mean that God knows everything? Classical theology has reminded us of important points. First, God made time. Sometimes, when we try to imagine God creating the universe, we leave out this crucial element. “Before” God made time, there was no time. This means that God is outside of time. In a similar way God is “outside” of the universe. He is always present to all of His creation without being limited to one “where.” In a similar way, God is present to all time without being limited to one “when.”


Why I became Catholic”

I guess the two big questions to ask a convert are: why did you do it and are you happy? Answering the first point is hard. It’s like asking a man why he married a woman. There’s a temptation to invent a narrative – to say, “this happened, that happened and before we knew it we were where we are today”. But the simpler, yet more complex, answer is this: I fell in love.

I was lucky to grow up in a household open to religious belief. My grandparents were Christian spiritualists; Grandma advertised as a clairvoyant. Mum and Dad became Baptists in the 1990s. I remember the pastor one Sunday telling us that evolution was gobbledygook. The teenager in me came to regard the faithful as fools, but I was wrong. I couldn’t see that they were literate, inquisitive, musically gifted and the kindest people you’d ever meet. But I went my own way and embraced Marxism.


This Little-Known African Basilica Is the Largest Church in the World

Yamoussoukro is the administrative capital of Côte d’Ivoire, a west African country with a population of just around 24 million people. Around a third of the population of the country practices traditional African religions, a third is Muslim, and the remaining third is Christian, mostly Catholic.

That means the whole country only has a few million Catholics, at most. Nonetheless, in the late 1980s, at a cost of a whopping $300 million, the massive Basilica of Our Lady of Peace was built.


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