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Home Sections The Daily B.R.E.A.D. Aug 30, 2009 - Sunday Meditation (Religion That is Pure and Undefiled)
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Sections - The Daily B.R.E.A.D.
Friday, 28 August 2009 16:04

I wonder whether when our contemporaries reject 'religion' it is in fact this 'pharisaism', or at least perceived pharisaism, that they are rejecting. Probably it is.


Religion that is pure and undefiled… is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world (James 1:28)


Twenty-Second Sunday of the Year

Deuteronomy 4:1-2,6-8

James 1:17-18,21-22,27

M ark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

(1) Now when the Pharisees gathered together to him, with some of the scribes, who had come from Jerusalem, (2) they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands defiled, that is, unwashed. (3) --For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they wash their hands, observing the tradition of the elders; (4) and when they come from the market place, they do not eat unless they purify themselves; and there are many other traditions which they observe, the washing of cups and pots and vessels of bronze. -- (5) And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, "Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with hands  defiled?" (6) And he 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; (7) in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.' (8) You leave the commandment of God, and hold fast the tradition of men."

(14) And he called the people to him again, and said to them, "Hear me, all of  you, and understand: (15) there is nothing outside a man which by going into him can defile him; but the things which come out of a man are what defile him."

(21) For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, (22) coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. (23) All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man."

 

* Meditation by Benjamin Earl O.P.

E very so often it's worth asking ourselves what we mean when we say certain things; and this perhaps all the more so when we are dealing with religious language, or indeed, with the word 'religion' itself which appears in today's second reading from the letter of St James.

We are used, in these days of secularism, to people rejecting or ignoring 'religion'. But I was particularly struck some years ago when a friend - not a catholic - said to me that he didn't believe in religion. This surprised me because my friend is no atheist: he believes in God, goes to church, says his prayers and tries to be good; yet he says he doesn't believe in religion. Well, it seems that he must mean by 'religion' something rather different from what St James means.

The Greek word used by St James derives from a notion of fear of God - or indeed the gods - and normally refers to acts of worship. Of course we Christians participate in acts of worship and speak of 'fearing God' in a positive sense. This is only right and proper, and indeed commanded by God himself in the scriptures. But St James makes it clear that 'religion that is pure and undefiled' is much more than that.

Religion can be taken to mean the religious organisation and discipline, so that 'Catholic religion' means Church structures, norms and rules. Of course we are called to worship God as a community, structured and governed in a particular way - that is right and proper. But true religion is much more than that.

Those notions of religion as belief in God, acts of worship or structures and discipline are the ones you are likely to find in a dictionary; but they aren't the ones you find in the New Testament.

Understanding religion in those dictionary terms runs the risk of the sort of pharisaism that we hear about in today's Gospel. The Pharisees, to be fair, clearly have a concern for the commandments of God which is, in itself, commendable. As a result they have a strong sense of the closeness of God as emphasised by Moses in today's first reading. All that is well and good. But their application of those commandments is so rigid that it misses the point.

The point of all those commandments is that we might be holy, that what comes from inside might be pure, and not make us unclean, and that we might shun all those vices listed in the gospel passage.

I wonder whether when our contemporaries reject 'religion' it is in fact this 'pharisaism', or at least perceived pharisaism, that they are rejecting. Probably it is.

True religion, as the Church understands it, is in essence the virtue of doing our duty to God. That certainly includes worshipping him, and includes being active members of Christ's body, the Church. But it also includes striving for holiness, for that is what God created us for and redeemed us for. It includes, therefore, helping the afflicted, seeking the good, avoiding those things from inside that make us unclean. 'Religion that is pure and undefiled… is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world' (James 1:28).

We may go to church regularly; we may seem, from the outside, to be living our lives in accordance with the commandments of God and the Church; we may seem to be people who do not murder, steal and so on; we may hear the word of God, and even endure the homily without complaining. Well done if you do; but if that is all we do, then we deceive ourselves and are 'hearers' of the word only and not 'doers'. If that is all we do, then it is not surprising that 'religion' unfairly gets a bad name.

We must, in fact, put the word into practice. Not just seem 'religious', but actually be holy, helping the poor and suffering, ourselves being pure in what comes from inside. Only then do we deserve to be called 'religious' and only then can we hope for the virtue of true religion to be seen and sought for what it is.

 

* S upplementary Reading

RulE of 8

 

If your brother sins (against you), go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother – Matthew 18:15

An email from halfway around the world popped in my inbox and immediately caught my ire. My boss, Bryan, a very wise man, knew that I was rightfully angry with this colleague. However, he cautioned me not to answer the email right away. He told me to take a breather, let the emotion go and compose an objective response. Thank God I followed his advice! Not only was I able to bring my point across, my colleague realized the error and apologized. More than this, I kept the peace.

Heeding today’s Gospel is a constant challenge for us Christians. It takes prayer since we need God’s grace to overcome our emotional outbursts. Nevertheless, it would take a decision from our part to heed Jesus’ instructions. I found Marsha Petrie Sue’s advice in her book, The CEO of You, hilarious yet practical to help me calm down when faced with a stressful situation. 8+8+8. Take eight seconds to draw the breath through your nose, eight seconds to hold the breath and eight seconds to exhale.

Whether you follow Marsha’s advice or not, it is important that we remain calm and let Jesus’ peace be in our hearts so that we can be “light” to those around us. Ariel Driz

 

* R EFLECTION:

 

Do I react or respond? Do I want to prove I am right or do I want to prove God’s love conquers all?

Lord Jesus, as I strive to follow You, let me be filled with Your peace so that  I may be a light to all. Amen.

 



GOD BLESS US ALL!
PRAY as if everything depended on HIM. ACT as if everything depended on YOU.
 
 
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Last Updated on Saturday, 29 August 2009 11:10
 
Comments (1)
1 Saturday, 29 August 2009 11:13
mabuhay
TRUE PURITY

Cleanness of soul.

Saint Mark, who wrote his Gospel primarily for converts from paganism, in various passages explains for his readers’ benefit the meaning of certain Jewish customs, the value of coins and so forth, so that they would be better able to understand Our Lord’s teachings. In the Gospel of today's Mass (Mark 7:1-8) he tells us that the Jews, and especially the Pharisees, do not eat unless they wash their hands, observing the tradition of the elders; and when they come from the market place, they do not eat unless they purify themselves; and there are many other traditions which they observe, the washing of cups and pots and vessels of bronze.

These purifications were not done simply for hygienic reasons or out of politeness; they had in fact a religious significance, symbolizing the moral purity needed in order to approach God. In Psalm 24, which was part of the liturgical rite of entry to the Jerusalem sanctuary, it says: Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart (cf Ps 24:3-4). Purity of heart appears as a condition for approaching God, for taking part in his worship and being able to behold his face. But the Pharisees hadn’t got beyond the purely external level and even added to the intricacy of the rites while neglecting their fundamental aspect, namely, cleanness of heart, of which all the rest was merely a sign and a symbol (cf John Paul II, General Audience, 10 December 1980).

On this occasion the Scribes and Pharisees who had come to Jerusalem were surprised that some of Jesus’ disciples ate with hands defiled, that is, unwashed, and they asked Our Lord: Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with hands defiled? Our Lord reacted strongly to this empty and formalistic attitude. You hypocrites, he said, you leave the commandments of God, and hold fast to the traditions of men. True purity - the clean hands of Psalm 24 (innocens manibus in Latin) is more meaningful than washed hands - has to begin with the heart, because from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All man’s acts originate in his heart; and if this is unclean, then the entire person is unclean.

Sensuality, that is, the capital sin of lust, leaves a pro found scar on the soul. However, this is not the only manifestation of impurity: also included is the inordinate desire for material goods, the attitude that leads a person to exploit others, to scheming, envy, or animosity; and also the tendency to think only about oneself to the exclusion of others; and interior sloth, the origin of daydreams and fantasies which undermine presence of God and application at work. Our external behaviour is coloured by our internal dispositions. Many external faults against charity can be traced to feelings of touchiness or irritability that should have been firmly rejected as soon as they first appeared.

What Jesus rejects is the mentality behind all those prescriptions; by then they had completely lost their original purpose. Instead, he teaches us to love that purity of heart whereby we are enabled to see God in our daily lives. He has told us so very often that he wants to reign in our feelings, to be with us at all times, to give a new meaning to everything we do. Let us ask him to always keep our heart clean of these disordered tendencies.

With permission from Scepter UK. Short excerpt from IN CONVERSATION WITH GOD by Francis Fernandez. Available at SinagTala or Totus Bookstore 723-4326 or at www.totusbookstore. com (info@totusbookstore .com)

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