The Evils Within Defile A Man
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
There are two very different trajectories in the gospel today (Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23). Matthew’s version explains it more graphically when he says that what goes into the mouth passes through the stomach and goes into the latrine. They’re all hollow places. It is sheer madness to think that certain foods can make us morally clean and pure. And eating and washing can raise us to the level of angels.
Real purity or goodness resides in the heart and soul of a person. Jesus’ trajectory doesn’t go into the gutter like the religious leaders. It goes from the heart, the center of man, emerges from the mouth and goes into the community, where everything is made manifest. I did this the exterior trajectory for many, many years. It included many good things: daily Mass, rosary, prayer, spiritual reading, frequent confession, but I was blind to many of my sins. The external things, as good as they are, do not change the interior man. I needed a community to see that.
So the deeper problem is that these external rituals blind the Pharisees, and us. We forget the purity lies in the heart and soul of a person, not what we eat. The illness of my mother and the time I spent with her over these last years is a constant reminder of who I am. The sins and defects and judgments that I see in her look very familiar. How could they not? How could I be different from her? Do you want to know who you are? The first step is to look at your parents, especially the one you are closer to.
The Pharisees’ trajectory is to make themselves “pure.” By the way, when we see the word Pharisee we ought to read “the hypocritical person.” Or do you think the evangelists were just writing about a current problem that only affected their culture 2,000 years ago? Man has a chronic tendency to be self-righteous and to feel superior to the other.
Christ’s trajectory is for the “other.” The Pharisees look at a list of food and washing rituals. Jesus is looking at the thoughts, words, deeds, intentions that are inside of man. The list of sins in the gospel covers the last seven Commandments that deal with our relationships with others. None of them have to do with God. In the original language the list comes out like in a staccato speed. The putrid contents evacuate quickly from their hearts through their mouths and into the cesspool of the world. These are the things that defile a man!
How can we overcome this tendency to live in the realm of externals? St. James gives us a solution: welcome humbly the Word of God when you hear it. Put away all filth, and humbly be open to what the Word is telling you. The Word should not just be planted in you, but engrafted in you. God wants his Word to be part of you so open your ear and take the message to heart.
James implies that we ought to learn the Word of God in order to “do it.” Not to preach it or explain it or to memorize or know it, but to make it happen. In a sentence that we do not read James says when we fail to act on the Word of God it is like a person who looks in the mirror and goes off immediately and forgets what he has seen. At least at my age it is important to check the mirror for embarrassing hairs, or who knows what, and not fail to remedy the situation. The Word helps you to examine your life, to take a serious look at it. My parents were always yelling at us to: stand up straight! I think they meant more than our physical posture. It is time we Catholics stand up straight, get your house in order, before throwing a stone at your neighbor.
The reading ends saying two practical things: serve those who are disadvantaged, who may be lost in many ways, not necessarily physically. And cut off from the world! Why do we listen endlessly to the news or what people put on their Facebook page? There are so many things that can lift us up and bring us true peace.
St. Monica, in her son’s (St. Augustine) book called The Confessions, goes through her own conversion. She was in some ways a worldly person who wanted her son to marry “up” as we say, or as the British say. And put that ahead of transmitting the faith to him. She had to pray non-stop and in the end Augustine was baptized at age thirty-four and then ordained a priest and a bishop. But it was a real ordeal for her that lasted many years. It led her to becoming a saint!
St. Paul an ex-Pharisee in one of his letters says let no evil talk come out of your mouth, only what is edifying and uplifting. Be kind to one another, tender hearted…forgive one another as Christ forgave you.