22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8
Psalm 15:2-3, 3-4, 4-5 (1a)
James 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
September 2, 2018
Beginning today and for the next few weeks our second reading comes from the Letter of James. Often scripture talks in terms of faith, faith that is a gift from God, a gift that is a treasure. Today, James talks about “religion,” religion “that is pure and undefiled before God.”
Today people talk about “religion” and “spirituality” as two different things. For those who don’t come to church but profess a belief in God, they describe themselves as “spiritual” but not “religious.” For them, this means they believe in God but don’t follow any one particular denomination or attend Mass. They say they pray in their own way. For many of them, “religion” is about the institution instead of faith in God. For them, the institution has too many rules.
Certainly, there are people whose knowledge of the Catholic Church centers on rules and practices. We have lots of teaching but not to have a volume of teaching. The Catholic Church does not seek to add new commandments. That would go against what Moses said in our first reading, “you shall not add to what I command you nor subtract from it.” People who focus on the rules of the Catholic Church believe we have added to what Moses taught. That is never our goal. The purpose is help us apply our faith in our world today.
Think of it this way, these words of Moses not to add to what was commanded came before King David and any of the prophets. The prophets were sent by God not to add to what God had already commanded but to help people live it out.
Nonetheless, people think the Catholic Church has too many “rules.” I think some of them look for the least they have to do, almost to the extent of subtracting from God’s commandments.
Moses told the people that if they follow God’s commandments, it would give evidence of their wisdom and intelligence to the nations. When we understand them properly and apply them to our lives today, the commandments are good for us. We should ask ourselves if we sometimes get caught up in “tradition” and forget the meaning behind the custom and/or teaching?
Unfortunately, we do. Unfortunately, that is not our biggest problem today. When James spoke of “religion,” he included, “pure and undefiled before God.” Right now we face turmoil in our Church because of sin and error that leaves the earthly institution of the church “unpure” and “defiled.” Instead of looking wise and intelligence, we look like hypocrites because of a few clergy who chose to sin in abusing children and those who made a terrible decision to cover it up. What they did was wrong. If you have been the victim of this, I am sorry. There is no excuse.
Recognizing this, Bishop Matano has called for “A Day of Penance by Priests” on September 14th, which is the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. That’s a Friday so we won’t normally have a Mass. However, for that day, we will have Mass at 12:10 pm in the chapel with a Rosary before and confessions afterwards. The details will be in next week’s bulletin.
Grave sin has been committed. Innocent people suffer from the abuse. First and foremost, we must pray for them and see that they get the compassion and help they need.
Only then do we ask, “Can the Church survive this?” To answer this we need to think of “church” on two levels. First, is the institutional church as we experience it on earth. It is where we learn about God’s commandments and how He calls us to live. It is where we come together to worship God as a community. On a higher level, “Church” is not just a human institution. The Church is established by God to be his instrument and Church is the bride of Christ.
The birth of the Church happened as the blood and water flowed from Jesus’ side on the Cross. The human/institutional church developed over time, led by the Holy Spirit. The human church falters when it does not listen to God.
Can the Church survive? Yes, but not based on human thought but because Jesus chooses to make the Church his bride. The church as we experience it on Earth has faced sin and corruption before. It has always survived. We see over and over in the Old Testament how the people sinned and, when they repented, God our Father restored what has been damaged by sin.
There is hope because Jesus died on the Cross for our sins.
The Holy Spirit is always ready to lead us to what God calls us to be. We just need to listen. God never turns away from us It is we who turn away from him in our sin.
So, what are we to do? I wish I could fix everything about the clergy abuse scandal but I don’t have the answers. I have been thinking and praying a lot about this scandal in recent weeks. It is hard to believe what has surfaced lately. I don’t have the answers but I know God does.
That is why the most important thing everyone needs to do is to listen to God. That means prayer. We need to stop worrying about how this makes us “look”, help those who suffer, and focus on being who God calls us to be. Again, it begins with prayer.
Does prayer really work? It did for St. Monica. Last Monday we celebrated her feast day. She was a Catholic Christian but married a non-believer. Her son Augustine was raised not believing in Jesus. She prayed for thirty years for his conversion. He had dabbled in other religions and lived an immoral life until St. Monica’s prayers were finally answered. We celebrated his feast day on Tuesday. He became Catholic, a bishop, doctor of the church, and a saint.
So, conversion is possible. It was for St. Augustine and it is for us.
Please pray. As Bishop Matano wrote this week, pray for “the innocent victims of clergy sexual abuse, the faith of our people, the purification of the Church and the renewal of the clergy.”