Sunday, Aug. 30, 2015
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8
James 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
The singsong voice still echoes in my head all these decades later: "We missed you at church Sunday night."
Simultaneously, I still hear my translation: "Shame on you for not going to church on Sunday night."
I was a teenager and the singsong voice was that of a youth group leader. I accepted the implied criticism and felt guilty for not showing up at the Sunday evening service -- although, for the life of me, I didn't know why I had to go to church twice!
That was hardly the only community where members press extra "requirements" on each other as proof of faith. Religion is about expressions of faith, so naturally people are going to sometimes confuse outward signs of reverence, discipline, or commitment with actual attitudes of the heart.
In some people's minds, the signs grow into conditions necessary for salvation: saying your prayers every night; never missing Mass -- or the collection basket; for some traditions, abstaining completely from alcohol; the list goes on.
People -- and churches -- tend to put obligations on us beyond what God asks. Unfortunately, it leads to misunderstanding, unnecessary guilt, and misplaced resentment.
For example, when I taught a Confirmation class, a candidate once asked, "If you don't receive the sacraments, will you go to hell?"
In today's Scripture from Deuteronomy, Moses describes God's law as just and whole, and tells the people that they should not add nor subtract from God's commandments.
In the Gospel, Jesus warns against overemphasizing human traditions that distract from the fundamental truth to which God wants us to aspire. Instead, Jesus calls us to examine our hearts for greed, malice, licentiousness, envy, and other evils that lead to acts more harmful than not going to Confession.
In fact, healthy church communities offer some enhancements that become human traditions -- Bible study, devotional practices, special prayers and teachings -- that help us understand and follow God's commandments.
When offered and received as help, not requirements, these human traditions can heal and form our hearts and draw us closer to the heart of God.
This column is offered in cooperation with The North Texas Catholic of Fort Worth, Texas.