Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 2, 2012
Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8; Psalm 15; James 1:17-18-21-27; Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

          As Moses is laying down the law in Deuteronomy, he pleads with the Israelites to follow the decrees and statutes because they lead to greater life. He begs them not to add or subtract anything from the laws because he does not want to dilute divine laws with fickle, changeable human laws. Strict observance to the law will make other nations exclaim in admiration, "This great nation is truly a wise and intelligent people." Though these laws are difficult to follow, they are designed to lead the people lovingly into freedom and they encapsulate the care God has for each individual. Upholding the letter of the law respects the spirit of the law.

          The Letter of James reinforces the gift of relationship we have to one another through God. All good giving and every perfect gift is from God and these gifts are to be received, given, and not changed. By keeping religion pure and undefiled a person remains unstained by the tyrant of sin. Law is designed to care for orphans and widows and for all those who are marginalized because God has preferential care for the poor. The law not only gives freedom, it protects society's vulnerable ones.

          Jesus willfully breaks the law. The Pharisees protest the reckless actions of the disciples who eat their meals without first washing their hands. It makes sense that cleanliness reduces possible diseases caused by ill-prepared foods. The Jews had no agency other than the religious authorities who acted like the U.S.D.A. that serves as a clearinghouse for diseased-free food. Jesus not only flaunts the well-established customs that protect himself and the community, he begins to interpret the Mosaic laws that are to be respected without blemish. To the community, Jesus and his disciples appear reckless and disrespectful.

          His point is a good one: "The things that come out from within are what defile." The evils that come from within people's hearts are evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, and folly. These are weightier sins that lead to a soul's destruction. The Pharisees and scribes show concern for only human tradition and they neglect matters of life and death.

          The social concerns of our age raise the same questions Jesus deals with in the Gospel. What is the purpose of the law? When, how, and why do we change laws? The Pharisees realize the Mosaic Law is to be unchanged. The Bible says so. New circumstances arise in daily life that the law does not cover and people are seeking answers about their level of complicity in a sinful event. Fundamentally, people want to live a good and caring way. Jesus points out the shallowness of the Pharisees' interpretation and begs them to look deeper. Laws and customs are always to be rooted in God's mercy, care for the underprivileged and marginalized, and respect for one's neighbor. If a law is not based in loving concern for another's welfare, it is no law at all.

          In the U.S., national conventions for Republicans and Democrats are being/have been held. Each party interprets the U.S. Constitution through a different worldview, which dictates their foreign and domestic policies. It can be a useful enterprise to examine the ways each party develops their policies. Are they defensive and restrictive or are they trying to make greater connections with the society around them? A defensive policy is based on fear and lacks freedom. Fear is not faith. A policy that deals only with ideals and not the ordinary realities of its citizens creates futile frustration. A policy that is in an easy dialogue with the world around it will flourish, learn, and be enriched by those who are allowed to be at the table. As it goes in politics, it goes in our church as well.

          Many in the church say that public revelation has reached its fullness in the person of Jesus. To them, private revelation does not carry the same authority. Jesus gave us a model for dealing with unchangeable laws and customs. He changed them. He changed them because he was more concerned with matters of greater magnitude. He did not hold onto traditions that existed for thousands of years as the basis of authority. He examined them prayerfully and made his best choices with regards to the salvation of a person's soul. He came to bring them greater freedom within the context of the laws, but those laws had to change to more adequately represent God's care for the poor and marginalized. Do we hold onto traditions merely because they are traditions? If so, let's look at the attitudes that lie underneath to determine if those laws are working or need to be updated. God's loving concern will shine through if it is a just law.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: In First Corinthians, Paul tells his people that he did not come to them speaking with smooth words or great wisdom, but with weakness, fear, and great trembling. His message was not one of cogency, but a demonstration of God's spirit and power so their faith rests is God's grace. The Spirit scrutinizes everything - even the depths of God. It uses a different vocabulary and the natural person cannot understand it. Only one who lives in the Spirit can judge according to the spirits. Paul reminds them that there is a progression of growth from natural foods to spiritual nourishment. He gives an illustration of Paul planting, Apollos watering, but God causing the growth. He tells them the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God. We are to be regarded as servants of Christ and stewards of the mystery of God. Therefore, refrain from making judgments until the time the Lord comes for he will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and he will manifest the motives of our hearts. ~ Saturday is the feast to commemorate the birth of Mary.  

Gospel:  Jesus reads a scroll from the prophet Isaiah in the Nazareth synagogue. After declaring captives have liberty, the blind see, the oppressed go free, he says that in their hearing this scripture passage is fulfilled. He was immediately driven out of town. He then heads to Capernaum where people were astonished by his teaching authority. A man with an unclean spirit is cured by Jesus. These spirits know his name and that Jesus wants to destroy them. He visits Simon and cures his mother-in-law. At sunset he heals people with various diseases and at daybreak he moves on towards other towns to proclaim the good news because preaching, not healing, is his mission. With the crowds pressing in on him, Jesus spots two boats coming in from their commercial activities. He asks one of the fishermen, Peter, to put out a short distance from the shore. When Peter makes a large catch, he recognizes the power of Jesus and exclaims, "Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinner." The scribes and Pharisees begin to question Jesus about his dietary practices. John the Baptist's disciples fasted often and were seen praying, but the disciples of Jesus eat and drink. Jesus responds to them by saying that the wedding guests have no need to fast when the bridegroom is with them. That day will come when they will mourn and weep, but today is not that day. ~ Matthew's genealogy of Joseph is recited on the feast of Mary's birth.

Saints of the Week

September 3: Gregory the Great (540-604) was the chief magistrate in Rome and resigned to become a monk. He was the papal ambassador to Constantinople, abbot, and pope. His charity and fair justice won the hearts of many. He protected Jews and synthesized Christian wisdom. He described the duties of bishops and promoted beautiful liturgies that often incorporated chants the bear his name.

September 7: Stephen Pongracz (priest), Melchior Grodziecki (priest), and Mark Krizevcanin (canon) of the Society of Jesus were matyred in 1619 when they would not deny their faith in Slovakia. They were chaplains to Hungarian Catholic troops, which raised the ire of Calvinists who opposed the Emperor. They were brutally murdered through a lengthy process that most Calvinists and Protestants opposed.

September 8: The Birth of Mary was originally (like all good feasts) celebrated first in the Eastern church. The Roman church began its devotion in the fifth century. Her birth celebrates her role as the mother of Jesus. Some traditions have her born in Nazareth while others say she hails from outside of Jerusalem.

This Week in Jesuit History

·         Sep 2, 1792. In Paris, ten ex-Jesuits were massacred for refusing to take the Constitutional oath. Also in Paris seven other fathers were put to death by the Republicans, among them Frs. Peter and Robert Guerin du Rocher.
·         Sep 3, 1566. Queen Elizabeth visited Oxford and heard the 26-year-old Edmund Campion speak. He was to meet her again as a prisoner, brought to hear her offer of honors or death.
·         Sep 4, 1760. At Para, Brazil, 150 men of the Society were shipped as prisoners, reaching Lisbon on December 2. They were at once exiled to Italy and landed at Civita Vecchia on January 17, 1761.
·         Sep 5, 1758. The French Parliament issued a decree condemning Fr. Busembaum's Medulla Theologiae Moralis.
·         Sep 6, 1666. The Great Fire of London broke out on this date. There is not much the Jesuits have not been blamed for, and this was no exception. It was said to be the work of Papists and Jesuits. King Charles II banished all the fathers from England.
·         Sep 7, 1773. King Louis XV wrote to Clement XIV, expressing his heartfelt joy at the suppression of the Society.
·         Sep 8, 1600. Fr. Matteo Ricci set out on his journey to Peking (Beijing). He experienced enormous difficulties in reaching the royal city, being stopped on his way by one of the powerful mandarins.

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