1st Sunday of Advent 2009
August 30, 2009
Deacon Lawrence N. Kaas
I don't know about you but for me these last week's listening to the news has been disheartening to say the least. This health care thing has become a gross disrespect for persons. Not only in the bill itself but also in the implementing of it. At times so much so that I have to stop and wash my hands so to speak. Then too we hear of the death of Senator Kennedy. It is said of him that he had a high regard for the Church and had made his entry into politics on a pro-life platform, what changed him has not really been explained, could it be that being politically correct was most important? I found this yesterday; Kennedy writes, "Wanted or unwanted, I believe that human life, even at its earliest stages, has certain rights which must be recognized - the right to be born, the right to love, the right to grow old." May God have Mercy on his soul!
Our Gospel for today deals with hand-washing. Not for hygiene but for ritual cleanliness. But even today, what phrase do you hear most often, wash your hand, did you wash your hands? And of course our mothers are correct washing ones hands is important especially that we are worried about the flu seasons. In my case I keep a squirt bottle of hand cleaner in my car that I use between Communion calls.
But that isn't what Deuteronomy is talking about for it is concerned as to what makes one unclean. Example: A Gentile was considered unclean, a dead body was unclean. Even certain objects were considered unclean and if you so much as touched them you had to purify yourself. Hand washing in this instance was a purification rite. I remember my mother telling of the time when she worked for a Jewish family in the cities and she had inadvertently used a meat knife to cut butter and the man of the house used a full kettle of hot water to clean that knife.
Jesus accused the Pharisees of following petty religious regulations while their hearts were far from God. Was Jesus opposed to hand washing? You will remember that one day the Pharisees accosted Jesus because His disciples didn't wash their hands before eating and Jesus called them hypocrites. The point was that He was by far more concerned about having a clean heart.
Cleanliness, for all it has to recommend it, can become an obsession, as ritual cleanliness was for the Pharisees. Being sanitary is one thing, but germ-a-phobia is an impossible way to live. Remember Howard Hughes and how the last years of his life he cleansed himself to death. In Jesus' world it was the Pharisees who were preoccupied with cleanliness.
There is a religious question that has been around, it seems, forever, and may be asked in a variety of ways. Is religious Faith an internal or an external reality? What matters more, what we believe or what we do? Does true Faith focus more on the hands or on the heart? In a matter such as this it seems that whatever choice you make some one can give you valid reasons for choosing the other. Maybe the right answer is to keep both in a healthy balance. Sin is more often a matter of elevating something good even, to the level of a God. Then suddenly we recall the words of Jesus from Mark; "This people honors me with their lips, but, their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts."
You disregard God's Commandments but cling to human tradition." He summoned the crowd again and said to them "Hear me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile. From within peoples hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, and folly. All these evils come from within and they defile." Mathew has Jesus say, "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."
The letter of James is very important in this regard, for he wants us to understand that every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no alteration or shadow caused by change. James goes on to say that He willed to give us birth by the word of truth that we may be a kind of first-fruits of His creatures. The Psalm for today supports James for in part in says, Whoever walks blamelessly and does justice: who thinks the truth in his heart, does not slander, who harms not his fellow man, he honors those who fear the Lord, whoever does these thing shall not be disturbed. What I want you to understand is that the gift of God's Grace is not an inactive Grace, it must be acted upon. You can not say for example, once saved, always save. Human nature tells us as does Scripture that we all sin and fall short of what is expected of us.
Some time ago young man stopped at my shop and said, "Lawrence, have been saved? Oh yes, I said, many times." After completing our business he had to ask how I could say that and I responded, every time I go to Confession! About that time Father Paul walk in and he to had to know what was going on and after telling him the story he asked if he could print it in a small paper the Paulist print. Sure why not.
Once again James tells us; "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world." This doesn't sound to me to be an inactive Grace but a Grace that requires that we put into action the Grace that God has given. In other word do some thing with God's Grace, freely given, or it dies!