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22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

One of our parish deacons is preaching this weekend so I have not prepared a homily for this Sunday (22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B). Even when I am not preaching I still like to spend some time in prayerful reflection on the readings. I encourage all of you to spend some prayerful time reflecting on the readings for Mass. (You can find them online at https://bible.usccb.org/.) While I do not have a complete homily to share here, I would like to offer some thoughts on the readings.

Our first reading comes from the Book of Deuteronomy. In this book Moses reminded the Israelites of what God had taught them and what God had done for them. As Moses dies at the end of the book, it is his last words to them.

In today’s passage, in their observation of the “commandments of the LORD,” Moses tells them, “you shall not add to what I command you nor subtract from it.” This exactly what the Pharisees and scribes have done. They have added human doctrine to the Lord’s commands.

There are people today who think the Catholic Church has added to what the Lord has commanded. Our Catholic Church certainly has a lot of teaching. It might seem burdensome or difficult to follow. However, it is not our church’s intent to make it a burden. The purpose of church teaching is to help us apply what God reveals in the scriptures to the world in which we live today.

The world is different today. For instance, medical science has advanced drastically. The Bible does not speak about ventilators and extraordinary means of keeping a person alive because these did not exist when the Bible was written. That does not mean the Bible does not have some to offer on these. The Church, relying on the Holy Spirit seeks to help us apply what the Lord does teach in the Bible to our world today.

We must also understand the context in which the Lord speaks. The Bible speaks of people being “unclean.” However, we must realize that there are multiple ways of being “unclean.” There is physical uncleanliness. This begins with simply having dirt on our hands. It can also involve germs. We want to wash the germs away so that we do not spread the germs. God wants us to properly wash and sanitize because God wants us to be healthy.

The Pharisees and scribes had made this physical cleaning part of their outward religious practices. However, this is not the uncleanliness that God is most concerned about. God is most concerned about the uncleanliness of our souls, what is on the inside. Here Jesus says, “Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person, but the things that come out from within are what defile.

Jesus goes on to provide a list of sins that come from the heart. We need to think about why we commit these sins and what is wrong with them. We are unchaste when we look at another person (or ourselves) as an object for sexual pleasure rather than loving them as a person. Temptation may arise because of something on the outside but the lust arises in the heart. Theft can arise because of greed and envy. In our hearts we want something that is not ours. Murder can arise from anger. The person that is murdered may have done something to make us angry but the anger is within us. We must ask God to help free us from our anger.

We need to ask the Lord to free us from our sins and for the wisdom and strength we need to resist temptation. It is not easy to overcome evil. (I know that from my days as Pastor of St. Michael’s Church in Newark, NY the St. Michael Prayer has become one of my favorites when I struggle with temptation. See my article “The Prayer of St. Michael”.)

God does not give us commandments to burden us. God gives us commandments that are good for us. Here, speaking of God’s commandments, Moses says “Observe the carefully, for thus will you give evidence of your wisdom and intelligence to the nations.” There was a a day when Christian morals and values were taken as the norm for the world. You were seen as a good person if you lived according to God’s commandments. Unfortunately, the world is losing its Christian foundation. This should concern us but there is always hope for nothing is impossible for God.

Remember, Jesus was not popular for some of his preaching. The Apostles were not always well received. For the first three centuries after Jesus’ Crucifixion and Resurrection, the persecution of Christians was common. Many Christians were martyred. Then we were blessed with a period of “Christendom”. Now….now we rely on God to help us restore our faith and to help us keep his commandments (For on this see my article, “We Need to See as God Sees”, based on a book from University of Mary press, From Christendom to Apostolic Mission: Pastoral Strategies for an Apostolic Age. (Bismark, ND: University of Mary Press. 2020.).

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

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