By Father James DiLuzio CSP
Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8; Psalm 15:2-3, 3-4, 4-5
James 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27 Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-2
During my 6 years as Associate Pastor in a parish in Los Angeles, I had the privilege of being chaplain to 4 pilgrimages to the Holy Land. The experiences provided me with numerous Spiritual Highs. I was filled with a deeper conviction of my faith–our faith–and a liberating joy. Even when we entered Gethsemane and stood on the places of sorrow and recalled Jesus’ and the Blessed Mother’s agonies and pains, the pilgrims and I meditated on the tragic aspects of sin and Christ’s sacrifice with a foundational hope. What we discovered, in a new, visceral way, was that as we engaged ourselves in the Holy Family’s sorrows, we more readily united our personal sorrows with those of others. Stories of sadness and hurts surfaced among us, and as we attended to each one, we found ourselves released from our own hurts, disappointments, fears, and disappointments. Christ was with us. On the Mount of Olives, or on the meadows where Jesus preached, Compassion overwhelmed us and engaged us in Resurrection experiences –the foundation of our Christian faith.
I need to remind myself of these Holy Land experiences, for now, some 20 years ago, I can detach from those feelings and insights all too readily. Time and time again I find myself struggling with the Paschal Mystery.
When Jesus ridicules the religious leaders for rote observance of laws and rituals, for not having conversion of heart, there are times I see myself as one of those Scribes and Pharisees. It’s not all so bad, this identification. I imagine they were struggling with the same inner tension so many of us have -conflicts between engaging in outward signs and not always feeling the intellectual and emotional commitment to worship. Am I giving of my true self—in all that I am and am not—as an offering to God, a genuine gift of thanksgiving for my very life? We subsist in God’s life, no other. Our Sacraments engage us in outward signs, yes! Yet they offer something more: active participation in the life of Jesus and the Apostles. Woe to all when our participation becomes an empty ritual, devoid of conversion of heart. Confident in God’s compassion and infinite patience with us, we must have the courage to be honest that we are not worthy, but we are loved. Who among us isn’t guilty of some aspect of hypocrisy when walking the path of LOVE?
Moses was recorded in Deuteronomy saying, “Observe (the Laws, the Covenant) 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,” Today, let’s face it “the nations could care less what we do, what we believe,” for the world is exceedingly secular and humanistic. Clearly, our society is most attentive to signs of our sins and is quick to call out “hypocrisy!” We have no control over the ways people perceive us as people of faith. We know we cannot be compassionate 24 – 7. Nevertheless, we are called to public witness.
In the end, the greatest gauge of true faith are not our rituals or prayer practices but our embodying the 2 Great Commandments: “Love God, Love Self (not because of our family tree, our personal talents, and accomplishments but) because each of us are part of God’s design, God’s plan for the generation in which we live — Destined to find our fulfillment in loving others.” It always comes down to that. As disciples of Jesus, Our Lord, it must always come down to that.
As we strive for sincere hearts of faith, genuine commitment to participation in Christ, the true sacrament, we must “Pick up the Cross,” and, essentially, that Cross is The Golden Rule. Ask, “What do I really want from each and every other person in my life?”— Understanding, respect, loyalty, compassion, acceptance? Well, then, offer each and everyone what we ourselves need. If not, we’re prone to all the dark, inner resentments, the ugly desires Jesus enumerates in Matthew’s Gospel—greed, malice, envy, and the like.
I consulted the Paulist Biblical Commentary on today’s readings, and I found this: “In the Biblical Tradition, the heart is the center of a person’s life, the seat of actions and emotion, (the seat of human) will, and thoughts, and conscience . . . The heart is the determining factor in one’s standing before God.”
So, to respond to what we’ve heard today, may we continually pray, “Change our hearts, Lord, change our hearts! Bless us with an ever-deepening conversion. Ground us in pure and sincere worship, so that your Divine Heart, will secure for us all the joys of faith, in good times and in bad times, for ourselves and for others. Oh, // Lord, Jesus, Son of the living God, have mercy on us, for we are sinners. // May this humble, honest prayer (modeled for us by Saint Matthew, the tax collector) bring us all to Life, to God, to the Resurrection and all the promises of Christ.”