22 Sunday in Ordinary Time (August 30, 2015)
Psalm 15:2-5 (1a)
James 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Parenting is hard! I think everyone can agree with me on this, yes? Parenting takes a delicate balance of love, discipline and setting rules. And we all know how much children LOVE following rules right? I say, “mow the grass.” They say, “later.” I say, “eat your veggies.” They ask, “all of them?” I know a certain preschooler who, after telling him to NOT run in a parking lot, has turned to me and said, “I…don’t…like…you!” I guess this explains why a few strands of gray hair have emerged from my head this past year.
So if parenting is so hard, why then don’t parents just surrender? Why don’t we simply throw our hands up and say, “do what you want, eat what you want, go where you want!” The answer lies in today’s reading from Deuteronomy, “hear the statutes and decrees which I am teaching you to observe, that you may LIVE.” We set boundaries and discipline out of love so that our children will live, grow and flourish. I am tough on my kids because I want them to grow into responsible, trustworthy, Catholics who will follow the path that God has laid down for them.
I know some of you don’t have children or your children are all grown up. You may be thinking that this is irrelevant to you. My brothers and sisters, it is very relevant to all of us. You see, I can call you my brothers and sisters because we all have a Father in heaven that loves us. We are all children of God… a very loving God…a very loving Father.
And throughout time, God has sent prophets to help guide His children and figure out which “rules” to follow. Moses, Abraham, Isaiah, John the Baptist. The bible is full of people guided by the Holy Spirit that were trying to keep us on God’s path. And like children, sometimes we listened and sometimes we just rolled our eyes and did our own thing. There may have even been a time or two when we’ve experienced great sadness or confusion in life and turned to God in frustration and said, “I…don’t…like…you!” But like a loving parent, God never gave up on us.
Even when all seemed lost, when God could have simply thrown up His hands and say, “Good luck, you’re on your own”…He sent us His Son to show us the way, the truth and the life. Jesus Christ, through His words AND actions, showed us a better way to live. That’s what is at the heart of today’s Gospel from Mark. Jesus quotes Isaiah and says, “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” The Pharisees and some Christians with a strong Jewish background were allowing the Jewish rules to become their God. Their words AND actions were not lining up. They lost sight of what was the original intent of the rules, which is to love God and trust in His ways.
Even sometimes as Catholics we may be tempted to see our faith as a long list of oppressive rules that need to be followed in order to be a “good Catholic.” I mean have you seen a Catechism or Canon Law book? They’re super thick! If God gave us free will, then why in the world do we need all of these so called “oppressive Catholic rules?”
I heard Catholic author, Christopher West, explain this apparent contradiction of free will and “all of those rules” beautifully. He said that we only see the rules as being oppressive when we intend to break the rules. For example, there are many speed limit signs that really irritate me. Route 68 past Perryville on the way to Lebanon is a 55 mph zone. You can easily and safely drive 65-70 mph there! I think the posted speed limit is silly and it often hinders me from arriving to work on time. You see, I think that rule is oppressive because I intend to break that rule.
Once we can better understand God’s teachings and allow our hearts to be open to God’s love, that is when the rules no longer seem oppressive. That is when we really and truly don’t need the rules anymore because our hearts are in line with God’s teachings. If we can get to that point, we are then living our lives in a way very pleasing to God. And trust me, this doesn’t happen overnight! It is an ongoing struggle with many failures along the way. This is why you need to constantly pray, study your faith and go to confession often. Furthermore, you need someone to hold you accountable for your actions and to call you out when your words say one thing but your actions say another.
This is what we should be doing as a church family. We need to encourage each other to live out our faith to the fullest. We are a family united by our Father in heaven. And here’s the Good News, our heavenly Father sacrificed his Son, so that He could throw us a great, big family reunion at His heavenly banquet one day. Guess what…every single one of you is invited to attend that banquet. We were all given an invitation at our baptism.
So the real question we need to ask ourselves is this… how have we lived our lives since receiving our invitation to the banquet?
God has done His part. Like a loving Father, He has given us statutes and decrees as a compass to follow in our lives so that we may live life to the fullest. Please, take some time to reflect on what your role has been as part of God’s family. Let us then use our words AND actions to lift each other up and, as a united family, proclaim Jesus Christ to the world!