By Deacon Don Griffith
The first line of today’s entrance antiphon is Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I cry to you all the day long from Psalm 86. This is not just a psalm of David, but when we consider that when the sun is setting in 1 place, it is rising in another and the day looks to make its way around the world, then we can also see that it is really the Lord’s Body the Church that is crying out all the day all around the world for mercy. All around the world- in the U.S., central America, South America, Europe, Guam, Australia- all around the world allegations of clergy sexual abuse. Sadly, it is very easy for me, and perhaps for you as well, to hear these readings and think of all those allegations-This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; what comes from the heart is what defiles.
Some of the religious leaders of the time of Christ handed Him over to others. The blood, sweat, and dirt of His passion disfigured the face of our Lord; the face of Love Incarnate, a face we seek and long to behold. In our time, the face of the Lord’s body is once again disfigured by the horrific experiences of abuse, and there is a particularly sinister and diabolical persecution of Christians. It is some of the religious leaders themselves who have scourged the Lord’s body and disfigured His face. It is a diabolical persecution in that the victims are not so much Christians in general as persecutions are wont to be, but these Christians in particular-as most were the innocent lambs in the flocks of those who perpetrated these heinous crimes and grave sins. We have heard and know that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. The Catholic and Apostolic faith traditionally expounds 9 ways to be an accessory to another’s sin. 2 of these ways are by concealment and by silence. By these ways it looks as if the poison of sin could have possibly infected not just the perpetrators, but also those with authority over them.
It would be easy to stop here; to say that in these days the readings are speaking about clergy sexual assaults. What about us? The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass cannot be just something we do- just going through the motions and not entering into the worship of God. We have to let it inform how we live each moment, otherwise we are the people that honors God with our lips, but our hearts are far from Him; we must allow God to deepen our sense of reverence, so He may nurture in us what is good. In every time of persecution and period of reform, our Lord has not failed to raise up saints who were doers of the word, kept God’s commandments, and kept themselves unstained by the world,; whose words rang out in the tone of truth and whose actions could well be seen because they were carried out in the light of Christ, and this is our calling now. Stealthily and subtly a war is being waged against the human family- against life in the womb, against the elderly and infirmed, against marriage and against the priesthood—against God’s chosen way to perpetuate the human family and against God’s chosen way to sanctify the human family and the world. By sowing confusion and doubt concerning these 2 sacraments, which together are known as the sacraments at the service of communion, the evil one is trying to sow confusion and doubt about our communion with God, the end to which we are all called so that we seek any other end but God. It seems to be a time of darkness. A time of wave after wave of sin. But I remind you that where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more and that he light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. The Catechism (2518) reminds us that The sixth beatitude proclaims, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” “Pure in heart” refers to those who have attuned their intellects and wills to the demands of God’s holiness, chiefly in three areas: charity; chastity; and love of truth and orthodoxy of faith. There is a connection between purity of heart, of body, and of faith:
The faithful must believe the articles of the Creed “so that by believing they may obey God, by obeying may live well, by living well may purify their hearts, and with pure hearts may understand what they believe.” May each of us turn to God that He may turn again and quicken us. Let us work out our salvation with fear and trembling for now is the acceptable time.
In all this-in this battle for souls, in these waves of sin and outpouring of grace, we must not forget the victims of clergy sexual assaults. Earlier I had likened them to the Lord during His passion. So, as they travel the way of the cross, I am reminded of the 4th, 5th, and 6th stations. May we, like Mary turn eyes of mercy toward them and see in their suffering face the face of our Lord, and may our own heart be pierced with sorrow for love of them. May we, like Simon, hear their stories and let them know they are not alone and thereby help to carry their cross. May we, like Veronica, wipe their face disfigured by wounds which are physical, psychological, and spiritual, and to care for those whose dignity and innocence has been assaulted. Let us afflict ourselves-in some way make ourselves uncomfortable that it may be offered in conjunction with Christ’s perfect sacrifice in reparation. May the Lord make for the victims a healing balm from our prayers and acts of mercy. As a member of the clergy, I am sorry for this betrayal. May God help us to repent. May the Divine Physician cut out this cancer, this tumor of evil. May this Eucharist stir us to be doers of the word- stir us to serve our Lord in our neighbor. Amen
By Deacon John Hackett
One of the best movies I have ever seen was ”Fiddler on the Roof.” Many of you may have seen “Fiddler” and if you did, you probably haven’t forgotten it. It was is a classic story about a Jewish-Russian family. But mostly it was a story about a good man, Tevye, [teh’-vee] whose traditions were more important to him than the commandment to love and forgive as God loves and forgives. It was a story of a good man whose traditional interpretation of what he thought the Bible said, “Jews are not to marry Gentiles” was ultimately more important to him than the commandment of God for love, mercy and justice. And that was the tragedy of Tevye: to love his traditions more than the commandment of love and mercy for his daughter who did not believe in his traditions the same way that he did.
The theme song from “Fiddler”: “Tradition! la—la-la Tradition!” was what the story of Tevye was all about, and that’s what today’s gospel story is all about…Tradition! How the Pharisees make a priority of tradition over love. They were more committed to their religious traditions than carrying out the fundamental directives of God for love, mercy and justice.
The gospel tells us a story about some Jewish leaders, scribes and Pharisees, who, BTW, were very good people. But like Tevye, they were very steeped in tradition, but they were not evil men. Sometimes in our superficial reading of the New Testament, we think the scribes and Pharisees are bad people. But these were good, upstanding people; dedicated Jews, just like Tevye was a dedicated Jew. And these good scribes and Pharisees, like Tevye, had their religious traditions. The Pharisees always said grace before and after every meal. The Pharisees always went to church every Friday night. The Pharisees always gave ten per cent of their income to the Lord. The Pharisees always turned eastward in prayer three times a day. The Pharisees always washed their hands before meals as a sign of religious piety. And actually, these were all good, religious traditions which were found in the Old Testament.
But as it happened, one day this group of tradition-loving Pharisees came to Jesus, and said, “Look at this!, do you see what is happening over there? Your disciples are starting to eat and they didn’t wash their hands. Don’t you know that all good Jews like us wash our hands before dinner as a sign of piety to God? Your disciples aren’t doing that! So Jesus, what are you going to do about that?” Jesus’ reply: “You people honor me with your lips, but your hearts are far from me. You minimize the commandments of God, but hold fast to the traditions of men.” He then goes on to say: “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandments of God in order to keep your traditions. In fact, you Pharisees are so loyal to your traditions in order to avoid doing the commandments of God for love and mercy. Your religion becomes a replacement for doing the work of God’s mercy in the world.” And that’s what the gospel lesson for today is all about, and in it Jesus teaches us two very important lessons:
First he address the tendency of good, religious people to give more importance to their traditions than to the commandments of love and mercy. As you well realize, history is filled with examples of Christians and Jews fighting and killing each other because of conflicts over religion. More battles may have been fought over religion than any other cause. And some of the most bloody chapters of history come when the commandment to love is repealed, and people start fighting with each other. To name just a few, remember the persecutions, the Crusades, the religious wars? Protestants and Catholics are still fighting in Ireland. Jews and Arabs are still fighting in the Middle East. People always want to fight about religion. And then the Christian faith, rather than being a source of harmony, love, and oneness… becomes a source of conflict.
Added to that, in the history of the church, Christians have always fought about religious interpretations. People have fought and died over the following issues: whether or not Christ is really present in the Sacrament; whether or not the earth was round or square; whether or not the earth was created in the year 4000 B.C.; whether or not the earth is the center of the universe; whether or not man evolved from an ape; whether or not evolution and Genesis are in conflict. Christians always want to fight about religious interpretations, and as they fight, they repeal the primary commandment to love one another unconditionally.
And the same problem continues today. The priority of religious traditions becomes much more important to people than the commandment to love. For example, today, in the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church, the people are fighting about whether or not Genesis 1-11 is symbolic history or literal history, whether Adam was a real man or a symbolic man. In the Episcopal Church, they are fighting about the ordination of women. In our Church, among other things, they are still fighting about the Vatican II Council, whether or not it was the work of God or the devil. And now, of course, all the controversy about abuse of power and clericalism that has put our church into a kind of “crisis mode”. And in another denomination, they are fighting about who is head of the house, a man or a woman? And in another church, they are fighting about whether one can speak in tongues or not. Church after church, denomination after denomination becomes dramatically polarized over religious interpretations and traditions. And almost inevitably, they revoke the commandment of unconditional love for each other. Hopefully, this won’t happen here within our parish. Hopefully, when we disagree with each other over “big” issues such as we have been talking about, the commandment for love and mercy and kindness will always take precedence. I remember well Fr. Tom Vos, the founder of St. Anthony Church in Mountain City, when I served up there. Whenever he was asked about all the flak we get from the locals about supposedly worshipping Mary, (or even being Catholic), he said we are to “take it all in stride and just continue in love and service to those in need.” The last time I talked with Fr. Tom, I commended him on this course of action…He simply smiled and nodded approvingly.
The second point that Jesus is teaching today is equally true. Sometimes religious people, ordinary religious people like you and me, sometimes use our religion as a replacement for doing the commandments of love, mercy and justice. Religion then becomes a replacement for love. But church activities should in no way be a substitute for involving ourselves in life. The purpose of Christ is to permeate all of life. The Christian faith is not to be the occasion where love is withdrawn from the suffering of the world. But unfortunately this often happens. There is always a large number of people in this world who mistakenly and naively make their absorption in the church and middle class life, as an excuse for withdrawing from the struggles of human strife and misery. And oftentimes there are even those who give money to the church simply as a means of avoiding the poor, the sick, and the elderly.
What I am trying to say today is true for all of us. It’s true for you, and it is true for me. And Jesus Christ still loves us in all our sinfulness, and in all our selfishness, and in all of our busyness. Jesus will never withdraw his love from us because of our selfishness. And the purpose of this homily is not merely to make us feel guilty… to have anyone go home and have a feeling that they were scolded by the deacon. That is not the purpose of the homily today. But I do think that Jesus was profoundly right when he suggested that many people of God love their religious traditions more than doing the commandments of God, more than the commandments of love, mercy, and justice here in the world.
In ending, now we have gone full circle, so back to “Fiddler on the Roof?” and “Tradition! la—la-la Tradition!” …. It was a great show. It was about a good man by the name of Tevye….who dearly loved his traditions…..too much.
Act on God’s Word
By: Deacon Mike Jacobs
We are called to welcome God’s word and to let it take root in our hearts. Nothing that enters one from the outside can defile that person; but the things that come from within is what defiles.
The problem with the Pharisees was that they concentrated on keeping rules instead of learning. Their focus was on morality instead of on discipleship. We make the same mistake. To focus on morality is to presume that we already know everything we have to do and that now we just have to do it. To presume this is not to give much credit to Jesus as teacher! It is to assume that all Jesus has to teach us can be learned in a few years of religious instruction and can be reduced to a set of simple rules. It is to presume that we already have the mind and heart of Christ that we think, desire and judge authentically like him in all the complex situations of our lives.
When Jesus blames the Pharisees for leaving aside God’s commandments to focus instead on human tradition, he is criticizing a mistake we still make. Teachers always tend to go to the source themselves, interpreting it, simplifying it, and then teaching their interpretation to their students. Once the teacher has reduced some great principle to a few cut and dried rules of conduct, and the students will probably never go beyond what they have learned in there early years.
The genius of a good teacher is to reduce complexity to simplicity. But this can also be the teacher’s greatest sin – especially when what the teacher is making simple is the infinite truth of God! Our teachers did this to us. They may not have had any other choice when we were children: Can children deal with great general principles that require deep thought and insightful application to changing circumstances? We teach children that to be pure, means to avoid certain particular actions that are impure, but we do not teach them what real purity of heart is or how to cultivate it.
What Jesus is teaching us is that we need to go from the human (the world), to the divine (eternity, heaven). When we listen to St. James words to us today we see that he (God speaking though him) is calling us to act on God’s Word. “All good giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of light, with whom there is no alteration or shadow caused by change. He willed to give us birth by word of truth that we may be a kind of first fruits of his creatures.” (Jas1:17-18). “The Father of lights”: A reference to God as Creator of the heavenly bodies (Gen1:14; Ps136:7-9) and in the symbolism of light, a source of all good things, material and especially spiritual. Unlike heavenly bodies, which change position and cast shadows, there is no variation or shadow in God: no evil can be attributed to him, but only good things. “First fruits of his creatures”: Christians, who have been recreated by God by “the word of truth” (the Gospel) already constitute the beginning of the new heaven and the new earth (Rev21:1) and are a sign of hope for all mankind and for the whole of Creation. (rom9:19-23).
“Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls. Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves.”(Jas1:22) A person who does not first turn his back on evil cannot do good. To listen docilely to the word of God one needs to try to keep evil inclinations at bay. Otherwise, pride — deceiving itself with all sorts of false reasons — rebels against the word of God (which it sees as a continuous reproach for a habit of sin it is unwilling to give up). Sacred Scripture frequently exhorts us to put the word of God into practice: “Everyone who hears these words on mine and does not do them will be like a man who built his house upon the sand”. (Mt7:26; Ez33:10-11; Mt12:50; Rom3:13; Jas2:14-26)
“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.”(Jas1:27) The Old Testament often refers to widow and orphans as deserving of special attention and the first Christians made arrangements for the care of widows in the early communities. Concern for widows and orphans is included in the works of mercy (by which the temporal or spiritual wants of our neighbor are relieved). “World” here it has the meaning of “enemy of God and of Christians, one needs to be constantly on the alert to avoid contamination.
To look at the teaching of Jesus ourselves as it is found in the Gospel and not as it has been given to us pre-chewed and pre-digested by our teachers, is what it means to become disciples. Until we begin to do this we are still “infants” in the faith.
Let us pray that God will increase our faith, bring to perfection the gifts he has given us and to Our Lord who forgives all who call upon Him: Lord God of power and might, nothing is good which is against your will and all is of value which comes from your hand. Place in our hearts a desire to please you and fill our minds with insight into love, so that every thought may grow in wisdom and all our efforts may be filled with your peace. We ask this through Christ our Lord. AMEN