“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.”
That verse from this week’s second reading from St. James strikes at the heart in light of the recent coverage of the sexual abuse scandals within the Catholic Church. Although St. James was writing about children who had physically lost their parents and women whose husbands had died, how many of us feel like spiritual orphans in the wake of the storm of the scandals?
Men who are spiritual fathers, bishops and priests, have violated a sacred trust. Having allowed themselves to be stained by the world, they have created more orphans and our faith does not look pure or undefiled.
In this Sunday’s Gospel, Our Lord Jesus Christ speaks of how this defilement comes from within. he says, “From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile.”
Responding to the Pharisees who were looking at the externals, Jesus is challenging us to look within our own hearts. He is not looking for appearances; He wants pure hearts. Jesus is not impressed by who looks the part, has the most likes on Facebook or Instagram or who has the most retweets. Jesus wants a heart that seeks to follow Him in every way, a heart that cleanses itself of the waste of the world, but also seeks to be purified by Him.
Seek Cleansing from Within
A heart truly united with Jesus would never allow oneself to harm a child sexually, nor to cover up such a crime. A heart united with Jesus would seek to cleanse the Church from within, first by asking Jesus to remove, discard and rip out from within ourselves all that is not pleasing to the Father.
In our first reading, Moses is speaking to the people of Israel after they have been traveling in the desert for 40 years. They are now ready to enter the Promised Land and Moses will no longer be with them. He exhorts them a final time to listen and follow the statutes and decrees of the Lord. He tells them that if they observe God’s commandments, they will be known as a wise and intelligent nation. We know that both before and after, that was not always the case. Israel suffered greatly when it did not follow God’s law, just as the Catholic Church is suffering now.
Just as Israel is the people of God, so we as the Church are God’s people, and we suffer when we do not follow God’s law. Just as Moses told the Israelites how fortunate they were that God was close with them, we are fortunate by how God is close to us, in the sacraments, especially in the Eucharist.
If we as a Church are going to come through these scandals, we must first be committed to having our own hearts purified. With clean hearts, we can see clearly the changes that need to be made. We cannot look for easy solutions or Band-Aids, but cling to Jesus and to His law.
Allowing the Lord to cleanse and purify our hearts takes great courage and trust. The more we trust in Him and the more we allow Him to purify us, the readier we will be to purify our beloved Church. Then our song will be like the psalm this week, “The one who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord.”
Readings for 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Deuteronomy 4: 1-2, 6-8
Psalm 15: 2-3, 3-4, 4-5
James 1: 17-18, 21b-22, 27
Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Father O’Connor is the pastor of Blessed Virgin Mary Help of Christians parish, Woodside.