22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cathedral of the Good Shepherd,
2 September, 2018

Deut. 4:1-2.6-8;
James 1:17-18.21-22.27;
Gospel of Mark 7:1-8.14-15,21-23

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Love and Faith – Blaming others for our Blindness?

          In today’s Gospel, when the scribes and the Pharisees asked Jesus, “Why do your disciples not respect the tradition of the elders, but eat their food with unclean hands?”  Filled with much anguish and sadness, Jesus reprimanded them, “It was of you hypocrites that Isaiah so rightly prophesied in this passage of scripture: 
            “This people honours me only with lip-service, while their hearts are far from me.  The worship they offer me is worthless, the doctrines they teach are only human regulations.”

            In Jesus’ response to the scribes and the Pharisees, He was clearly not referring to the importance of hygiene, but the overemphasis of the adherence to exterior cleanliness; an overemphasis neglects the far more important interior or moral cleanliness of the heart . . .

            If we reflect on our lives and daily living, what Jesus has just challenged the scribes and Pharisees, in many ways can also be directed to us. 

            One of our Filipino Jesuit priest’s nephew, Carlos, (not his real name) comes from a very rich family.  Carlos was a very good looking and intelligent young man, and had a beautiful girlfriend.  When Carlos was studying in our Jesuit university in Manila, he lived in a big house that his parents provided for him; he had two maids, an expensive car, and all the money he wanted.  However, sadly Carlos shot himself to death. 

            At the funeral Mass, Carlos father confessed and shared with great sorrow and regret, “My wife and I thought we have given Carlos everything he needed in life.  However, we were wrong.  We now know that what we have given him was only all the material wealth and comforts of his life.  What Carlos our son, needed most, we did not give him.  He needed our love.  My wife and I have been travelling all over the world and being busy with so many secular engagements that we have neglected him and failed to show him our love.  This is the most painful lesson we have learnt in our life, but it is too late; we have lost him, and perhaps, it is Carlos’ way of making us learn this painful lesson.  “Carlos, my son, I am sorry for not showing you our love.” 

            My brothers and sisters in Christ, in this true and very tragic story, I can very well imagine that there are many families, including some of you hear, who may be going through such similar painful experiences of how you are at present not reaching out to your children or how your children are not open to you reaching out to them, and that the family situations are filled with tension, anxieties, pain and helplessness. 

            If this is so, Jesus in today’s Gospel is inviting you and I to live more wholesome and authentic lives.  Good and wholesome families are the result of the love, care and compassion that nurtures the family.  Likewise, when families and relationships are strained and when homes are filled with much arguments, anger and animosity, let us first face the truth that no one in the family, is totally “innocent” or “blameless”. 

            And so, when there is pain and suffering, division and depression in our hearts and homes, or between husbands and wife, whether directly or indirectly, to a certain degree everyone has to bear the responsibility of having contributed to the painful situation.  We are each very much the product of what we experienced in our families and homes. 

            As the scribes and Pharisees would not admit that they were blinded by their rigid, self-righteous, proud and hypocritical way of living their faith, let us not presume that we free from such blindness, self-righteousness, pride and hypocrisy in the way we live our lives.  Indications that we have such attitudes, are when we blame everyone else except ourselves for the pains and sufferings of our lives.  The saving grace of Carols’ father is that he did not to blame their son for his suicide, but he was humble enough to admit that it is his failure to love their son, that had led to the suicide. 

            And so, my sisters and brothers in Christ, as Jesus reprimanded the scribes and Pharisees for living hypocritical lives of paying God “lip-service” of observing their religious rituals of washing their hands before eating, and then neglecting the more important matters of living a moral and upright life of mercy, justice, integrity, love and care for one another, Jesus is also reminding and challenging you and I to live more authentic, and Christ-like lives.

            The true story of Carlos and his family may give us good indications of what may be happening in our homes.  First, let us note that Jesus, as in the Carlos family is not just asking us to be good people.  The Christian faith is ultimately about a “goodness” that leads one to eternal life.  Carlos’ parents were good people who provided their son with all the material wealth and comfort he needed, but sadly, they failed to show him the Christ-like love that he needed. 

            If Carlos’ family were Christ-centred, the Holy Spirit would surely have urged them to live the wholesome love that Jesus proclaimed in the Gospels, which is more than the materialistic needs and the comforts and luxuries of life.

            My brothers and sisters in Christ, I am aware that this wholesome and Christ-like ways of living our lives cannot be achieved overnight.  In fact, it is a lifetime commitment.  In other words, even as Carlos’ parents admitted to the narrow and blinded love they gave their son, for them to grow in their authentic love for the rest of their children, they would need a life time of ongoing and conscious loving of their children in Christ-like ways. 

            In other words, the conversion of heart, is the beginning of a life time journey of painfully growing in our love for Jesus. However, so as not to be discouraging and pessimistic about the reality of the challenges we have to face, let us then remember that if we want to live a more Jesus-centred life, the path of Jesus, that will surely demand that we carry our crosses, as Jesus did, we can be certain that the path of Jesus will always be fulfilling and life-giving, and never divisive and destructive. 

            The good news for us is also that each time we love Jesus and try to become more like Him, in the way we live our daily life and relate to people, and embrace the pain and sufferings of our lives, we will grow in the maturity of our faith and deepen our love for Jesus. 

            Let us remind ourselves then, that as Jesus is challenging you and I to live more authentic lives, and not simply have lip-service where, as Jesus in quoting the Prophet Isaiah, in today’s Gospel says, “our hearts are far from Him, our worship is worthless, and thus, from within our hearts can emerge the evil intentions of: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, malice, deceit, indecency, envy, slander, pride, folly . . . that make us unclean. 

            My brothers and sisters in Christ, as I conclude, let us leave this Eucharistic celebration with Jesus’ assurance that we will certainly receive His peace and joy and a renewed hope in our lives, if we desire to live the wholesome life that His Father Wills of us. 

            And, if we are open to accepting this Gospel Truth of Jesus’ invitation and challenge, then we can be sure that we will receive the Light and Wisdom of the Holy Spirit, who promises to lead us and give us the needed strength to persevere and trust that Jesus will never let us down, regardless of how painful, helpless and hopeless we may think our life’s situation may be. 

            Indeed, God is all powerful, His Love is all Merciful and forgiving and His Healing grace Wills to bring about reconciliation, peace and love in our lives and our families; in our hearts and in our homes, and in our desires and dreams of living a more meaningful and fulfilling life. 

            And so, when we return to our homes tonight and in the coming week, let us spend time listening to Jesus who is within our hearts, for He wants to speak to us personally, about the way we live our lives daily.  Let us open our hearts to His Healing and Compassionate Love, and let us believe even more firmly that when we take one little step towards Jesus daily, we will surely deepen our love and relationship with Jesus and indeed, experience a love and a more authentic living that is beyond the “lip-service” that Jesus condemns in today’s Gospel. And, sooner than we expect, we will develop a heart that worships in our Eucharist more meaningfully and authentically, and witness to His Truth of the Gospel, more effectively in our daily living.

Msgr Philip Heng,S.J.