22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 2, 2018 (Thoman)
22nd Sunday – 2018
Dt. 4:1-2, 6-8 | James 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27 | Mk 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
I. Our nation is currently engaged in a national ritual of tribute to Senator John
McCain. As you know, he was honored in his home state of Arizona and now his
remains have been brought to Washington where he lies in state in the capitol
rotunda. He has received many tributes from both major political parties, from
men and women of all walks of life. Thousands and thousands of ordinary
citizens will pass by his body to give him honor. Why? Why do we seem to
especially honor some people in these ways and not everyone?
I think it is because we admire – and aspire to – integrity. We pay high
respect to people who are who they say they are – whether they are well known,
famous people or people we know personally. They have interior convictions
and ideals and they truly live them. Another word for integrity is wholeness.
They have themselves put together well. There’s nothing hypocritical about
them. They truly act upon their convictions. John McCain is recognized as one
II. Jesus would say genuine holiness is like that. It isn’t just a matter of doing
religious type things in our actions alone: it has to be rooted in the heart.
In the gospel Jesus criticizes the Pharisees and some scribes who have all
gotten caught up in observing minute religious practices and they have gotten
human traditions mixed up with what is genuinely God’s commandments. It
seems they have placed all these things on the same level and don’t distinguish
between what is really essential and what is peripheral.
In the gospel, Jesus seems to be saying that goodness – or our sin – come from
the inside, from the heart. This is the root of goodness and sin. Either we allow
the sin and evil to dominate in our heart or we nurture the goodness, the holiness
which is in the heart.
III. Nurturing that holiness begins with a heart that is consciously in love with God.
In the first reading Moses asks which nation has a god who is as close to them as
the Lord God – a god who is close to them that when they ask, God is present?
Holiness begins with that conscious awareness of God’s presence. Do you wake
up with an awareness of God? Are you mindful of God’s presence throughout the
That holiness is nurtured when we allow the law of God to lead and guide us.
The original Jewish concept of religious law was that it was a guide to help them
reflect the holiness of God. Religious law is not like our concept of civil law; it’s not
like obeying traffic laws where we rigidly obey speed limits and traffic signals.
Religious law is not seen as an imposition or a burden, but rather as a guide to living
holiness. That doesn’t mean religious law is passed off as unimportant or frivoulous;
indeed, religious law is deeply respected. It is just understood differently.
The core of Jewish and Christian religious law is that it is lived daily. The
author of the letter of James says:
“Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves. 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.”
This is absolutely essential to religious law: that it is honestly and truly lived
out in our actions – that we are men and women of integrity – that we truly are
who we claim to be.
IV. And the author of James counsels us to keep ourselves “unstained” by the world.
Holiness is nurtured – and protected – when we guard against contamination by
the things of the world. That might be the sin we see within the Church, the sin and
evil we see in the world, the temptations to sin which swirl around us. An old
Catholic advice is that we avoid “temptations to sin.” That means to avoid those
things or people that might lead us into sin. That can mean gossipy people,
negative people, unchristian people, just plain bad people or places which lead to
sin or things like the Internet. We should avoid anything that leads to sin and could
harm our holiness.
V. So, is it a good thing to go to Mass and practice religious rituals? Sure. But hopefully
we are here not to go through the motions but because is already in our heart. And
have come to nurture it and allow our prayers to transform holiness into good
deeds serving the needs of others.
-- Fr. Dwayne Thoman