Once upon a time, a young businessman returns to the Church. He decides he needs to go to confession. “Are you sure you’re going to try to set aside all sin?” says the priest. “Yes Father, I certainly am going to try,” replies the businessman. “I hereby resolve to double my efforts.” “And you’re going to attend Mass regularly?” the priest goes on. “Yes Father,” says the man. “I shall worship and confess every week.” “And how about your debts and those you have cheated?” inquires the Priest. “Now just a minute, Father.” says the man. “Now you’re talking business and not religion.”
Let’s talk religion. In the words of St. James- if we are only hearers and not doers of the word, we are deluded.
In ancient times, the love of God manifested itself in law and commandments. God set all of them down for their observance. No one could add or subtract to the laws and commandments. Following them, they found wisdom. Living them they discovered order. Praying them they found the glory of God. But as humans are wont to do, often we fall into the letter of the law instead of the spirit of the law. Law and Commandment are meant to lead us to a deeper relationship with God. Instead, often we allow them to lead us into mediocrity and a false religion. Laws like Do not kill became- do not kill your fellow Israelite; Do not commit adultery only applied to women; And the prohibition against coveting never applied to foreigners.
When the primitive church began to admit Gentiles to baptism, Christians struggled with the issue of the law. Where we meant to follow rules and regulations or did God expect us to love? And, in the words of St. Augustine 300 years later…is it possible to love and do what we will? St. Mark and St. James tell their fellow Christians that we ought to know the difference between God’s Commandments and human tradition. Ritual washings for the purification of worship can be important but decent housing and good healthcare for widows and orphans are the most important. Following the rubrics is good Catholic worship. But after we follow the rubrics, if we are not doers of the Word and the Eucharist we are liars and hypocrites. Then we wonder why young people do not want to go to church. We should walk out of these doors transformed, but instead, according to Jesus, evil continues to come from our hearts and we defile the world.
Religion is a lot of work. The word means “to bind oneself to something.” I bind myself to God. I bind myself to a community. I bind myself to the Sacraments. I bind myself to private prayer and to reflection upon the Word of God.
Here we find the Truth- Jesus Christ who calls us to a pure Religion. And what does that mean? After we receive the body and blood of Christ…religion is not a matter of law and guidelines. Religion is a matter of justice and binding ourselves to God.
The Rev. Fr. Dr. T. Becket A. Franks, O.S.B.
The 22nd Sunday