Clean and beautiful, inside and out

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22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B: Aug. 30, 2015
Deut 4:1-2, 6-8; Ps 15; James 1:17-18, 21-22, 27; Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

In the Gospel reading we have just heard, the Pharisees and the scribes took Jesus’ disciples to task for not washing their hands before eating, according to the customs of the time. Now, we should remember that their motivation for such handwashing was not being sanitary, but rather ritual purity. The law that the Lord gave his people in the Old Covenant required certain kinds of washing—especially of priests preparing to offer sacrifice, but also of all people in certain circumstances—for the sake of ritual purity.

But there is a problem with the Pharisees’ view of this:

  • First, they greatly extended those washing requirements beyond what is written in Scripture. We heard in the first reading Moses encouraging the people to follow the Law faithfully—but also warning them not to add to… nor subtract from it. The Pharisees were adding to this Law, and then demanding that Jesus’ disciples and others follow their additions.
  • Second, as Jesus told them, they focused on these outward actions of washing while neglecting to cleanse what was inside them, in their hearts and minds. Quoting the prophet Isaiah, Jesus said: “their hearts are far from me.”

It would be easy for us to shake our heads at the Pharisees, so concerned with ritual washing while neglecting the moral washing of the heart. But are we so different? In our own society, in our own time, we too can be very concerned about matters of the body, for ourselves, our spouses, our children:

  • Perhaps we can be concerned with food and drink: that it be nutritious and balanced, free from certain chemicals, hormones, or genetic modification.
  • We may be careful about the medicines we take inside and the soaps and lotion we use outside.
  • We may want to engage in just the right sports or forms of exercise.
  • We may be careful about what our clothes, towels, and sheets are made of, and how we care for them.

All of this is good; it is good for us to take care of our bodies. But, as with the Pharisees, we can focus strongly on caring for our bodies while neglecting to care for our souls. Are we just as careful about what goes on in our hearts and minds?

  • About what we take in from the many electronic screens in our lives, or what we look at on paper, or what we listen to? Are we taking in pornography and filling our thoughts and imaginations with this? Are we dwelling upon violence, or taking in a lot of profanity, or extensive expressions of anger?
  • What about our conversations? Are we regularly listening to gossip, to criticisms and judgments of other people?
  • And what we are choosing to dwell on, to remember, to think about and imagine?

As Jesus tells us, there are terrible consequences that follow from what we fill our hearts and minds with. This week, as every week, we have heard in the news about how the awful stuff in someone’s thoughts and feelings has turned into actions.

  • Anger and hated can turn into violent words and even violent actions.
  • Impure thoughts can turn into impure actions.
  • Thoughts of greed and envy can turn into stealing or handling material things unjustly.

Why do we do this? How can we be so careful with how we care for our bodies, and so very neglectful about how we care for our souls?

First, it might be because we find it is very common. So many we know do it; why not us too? And it may be very easy. Second, we might think that we need to do it. We might think that we need to know certain things, to be acquainted with them. But do we? We might think that we need to know about problems in order to help with them. That might be the case; but it can also be the case that, to help with a situation of anger or lust or greed or suffering, we need to enter filled with peace and calm and wisdom, in order to bring in a needed change.

Third, it may be that we don’t think that we are valuable enough to protect. Probably every one of us knows at least one person who we value very highly: we think they are beautiful and precious and free, and so we want to guard their hearts and minds against being damaged or stained. But maybe you don’t think you are worth protecting in the same way? But you are! You are that precious; you are that beautiful! In just the same way, it is worth it for you to guard your own heart and mind from being stained in this way.

Consider these beautiful words that we hear in the Book of the Prophet Isaiah (61:10; 62:3, 4):

I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul; For he has clothed me with a robe of salvation, and wrapped me in a mantle of justice, Like a bridegroom adorned with a diadem, like a bride bedecked with her jewels….

 You shall be a glorious crown in the hand of the Lord, a royal diadem held by your God… For the Lord delights in you…

So how then do we respond? How do we take care of our hearts and minds as well as we take care of our bodies?

Certainly we should consider all of our current habits in what we are taking in—through what we watch or read or listen to—and in what we are reflecting upon. We should think about this, and we should pray about it. And we should consider: Are there any changes I need to make? Are there things I need to stop looking at, listening to, dwelling upon?

But perhaps you would say to me: “Father, that’s not enough. It’s too late. It’s not a matter of what I do or don’t do in the future. I’m already stained. I feel guilty; I feel ashamed; I am full of thoughts and feelings that are far from being beautiful and peaceful.” In that case, I urge to you have hope in the power of our Lord Jesus! He can cleanse you; he can heal you and free you and make you truly beautiful again! What can you do if you feel that you bear this stain right now?

  • First, go to confession. This will take care of the guilt, as you receive Christ’s forgiveness there; and it may also, by itself, begin to change those feelings and thoughts you are experiencing.
  • Second, take these things to the Lord in prayer, perhaps especially in Eucharistic Adoration, such as we will have here this evening. Tell him about what you are experiencing, and let him begin to change it.
  • Third, there are other ways in which Christ may wish to heal you and set you free. One of these may include forgiving people, so that you can be free from the grudges you may have been carrying for years. Another might be renouncing some of the spiritual influences by which the Evil One has been able to mess with you. Please, give me a call in the office, and I would be happy to talk with you further about help that you can receive. (Such as by the Unbound method.)

You are precious! You are beautiful! Have hope in the power and love of our Lord Jesus to cleanse you, heal you, and set you free! You can be as clean and healthy inside your heart and mind as you are outside.

St. Paul wrote to the Philippians (4:8):

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

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