Thought for the Week

Thought for the Week by Fr. LeRoy Clementich, CSCTwenty Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (2015)

By Fr. Leroy Clementich, CSC

I came upon a quote some days ago that set me thinking about Jesus’ comments in this current Sunday’s gospel about ritual, habit, customs, tradition, certain ways of thinking and doing things. The author, Aaron Hill wrote: “Customs form all of us, our thoughts, our morals, our most fixed beliefs and they are all consequences of our place of birth.”

Most of us can think backwards and remember certain ways of living that were specific to our family, the school where we were taught, the church where we worshipped, the secret places where we adventured and many more. We were formed by the faith of our parents, we learned from our teachers the proper way to speak and write and from our pastor and the good Sisters we learned how to go to confession. In some mysterious sense, we learned how to die well. All this was simply absorbed from the context in which we lived. Ultimately, we probably had little control over it all.

It did not seem necessary to us to say that these were sacred customs, or even pious habit. It’s just that this is the way we did things and we had no good reason to distrust them. They seemed to give us reason to live the way we did. In short, they helped us get on with life as best we knew how.

At the same time, however, we instinctively knew that these do not form the true substance of life, not that which gives life meaning; they were simply the shell.

Think then about Jesus’ comments about certain Jewish customs of his day, the so-called Kosher, purity laws. He cites, for example, the washing of hands, sprinkling of food from the market, the washing of cups and jugs and kettles, etc. Then Jesus goes on to quote the great prophet Isaiah who lived eight centuries earlier: “This people pays God lip service but their heart is far from me. Empty is their reverence they do me because they teach as dogma mere human precepts.” I am sure these words must have stung many of the more conservative of his listeners but they surely must also have made them think again about the customs that had come down to them from centuries earlier. 
“They mean well,” Jesus said “but they have become mired in externals while the true meaning of worship has been lost to them.” Jesus is referring, of course, to life issues: care for the poor, justice, truthfulness and charity.

Here is a gospel that may very well reflect the customs we Catholics observe. Our rituals are well known to us, we practice them each Sunday in the liturgy. I would not wish to say that they are empty of meaning. Indeed, if we think deeply about them, they are truly transcendent. The question, of course, is do we ever take the time and the occasion to reflect on the deeper meaning, for instance, of holy water, candlelight, incense smoke, the sign of the cross, the baptismal fount, the bending of the knee, the significance of holy word, bread and wine and holy Eucharist? We mean no disrespect, of course, but perhaps we have simply gone on our merry Sunday way without ceasing to ask ourselves, occasionally, what all these sacred customs mean to us, how they affect our sense of awe. We all live in a world of speed, distractions and interruptions. Perhaps this Sunday, the Lord’s Day, we may have a free moment to ask if we have forgotten to discern between the external and the substance of what we truly believe. Perhaps we may even need to go home again to find out.

The scriptures: Deuteronomy 4: 1-2, 6-8 • James 1:17-18, 21-22, 27 • Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23

USCCB Bible Daily Readings: Twenty Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

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