THEME: GOING BEYOND RITUALS
READINGS: Deuteronomy 4:1-2,6-8/ James 1:17-18,21-22,27 / Mark 7:1-8,14-15,21-23
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Often when nations bid to host a sporting event, they also aspire to win the competition. Hence, the slogan, “host and win”. However, more often than not, teams of hosting nations do not emerge as winners. For instance, in the recent (2020) Olympic Games held in Tokyo, though the Japanese Team performed well, Japan was not the overall winner. Here is another instance: despite the dominance of Brazil in international soccer, their team could not win the World Cup when they hosted it in 2014. Why is this so? Several factors may account for the inability to win when hosting a sporting event. Here, I wish to mention only one key factor. That is, the hustle and bustle of hosting a sporting event distract the host nation from achieving its main goal of winning it.
To host others is to make them feel at home. Similarly, a Christian ritual “hosts” a mystery. In other words, a ritual helps to bring a mystery “home” to us. However, as “host and win” is a challenge in sports, so sometimes believers are not able to go beyond the rituals (hosting) to realize the deeper mysteries of their faith.
Let us, therefore, consider three (3) ways by which we can go beyond the rituals in order to enjoy more the blessings of God: (a) approach the rituals with purity of heart, (b) be conscious of the mysteries which the rituals “host”, and (c) be compassionate towards others.
(a) Approach the rituals with purity of heart: For instance, the ritual of the washing of hands is meaningless when undertaken with impure or unrepented heart. Hence, in the gospel reading, Jesus stressed the need for purity of heart: “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile” (Mark 7:14-15). St. James would later emphasize this point: true religion entails keeping oneself unstained from the world (James 1:27). Let us, therefore, keep ourselves from sins or, if we have sinned, let us sincerely repent, before we approach any Christian ritual.
(b) Be conscious of the mysteries which the rituals “host”: According to today’s gospel reading, the Pharisees saw the mere washing of hands as a religious act. They could not go beyond this ritual to see the deeper meaning behind it – namely, the purity required of the soul of a person who worships God. Jesus, therefore, scolded them for the shallowness of their religious acts (cf. Mark 7:1-8). In other words, like the unsuccessful Brazil soccer team, the Pharisees could not appreciate the mysteries which their rituals “hosted”.
Beloved, even today we are faced with the challenge of “hosting and winning” in our worship of God. For instance, some Christians today perceive infant baptism as “christening” in the sense of a mere ceremony to name a child. Such Christians do not see beyond the baptismal rituals to appreciate the mysteries they reveal: the incorporation of the child into Christ, adoption as a child of God, membership of the Church (Body of Christ), forgiveness of (original) sin, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, citizenship of heaven, among others. It is these mysteries we have to be more conscious of, so that the sacrament does not become a mere ritual for us.
The Holy Mass is another instance. Very often many forget that the rituals of the Holy Mass “host” (make present) the merits of Christ’s unique redemptive sacrifice, the real presence of His body and blood together with His soul and divinity, etc. Beloved, whenever we are tempted to forget the mysteries behind the rituals of the Mass, the name (Host) given to the un-consecrated bread should promptly remind us of the surpassing mysteries that the rituals “host” (make present).
(c) Be compassionate towards others: The God, whom we must approach with purity of heart and whose mysteries we must be conscious of, is not visible to our eyes. Hence, a concrete way of expressing the fact we are going beyond the rituals, is to love others as He has loved us in His Son Jesus Christ. Such compassionate love should be given especially to the poor. Hence, St. James states that true religion entails the care of widows and orphans in their need (James 1:27). Beloved, this means that our worship in the chapel has more meaning if it is accompanied by works of charity outside the chapel.
Conclusion: Beloved, I have only mentioned a few instances where we need to go beyond the rituals of worship to appreciate and enjoy the benefits of their deeper mysteries. I pray that, henceforth, we will take advantage of God’s graces to be pure in heart, conscious of His mysteries and compassionate to others, so that we enjoy the spiritual merits which the rituals “host”. Amen!
By Very Rev. Fr. John Louis