This Sunday is the twenty-second Sunday in ordinary time. The readings explain the meaning of true religion. It is not simply a scrupulous, external observance of rules, laws, traditions and rituals but a personal relationship with God. The prophet Amos says that God desires steadfast love rather than sacrifice, the knowledge of Him rather than burnt offerings. Therefore, true religion is a loving, obedient relationship with God expressed by obeying His Commandments, worshipping Him, recognizing His presence in others and rendering loving and humble service to them. Prayers, rituals, Sacraments and religious practices are a means to achieve that end.
The first reading explains that religion is a Covenant relationship with a caring, providing and protecting God, fostered by keeping His Commandments. God gave Israel the Law so that the Israelites might keep their Covenant with Yahweh and grow in holiness. The Law was given for several purposes: a) it would help Israel survive as a people; b) it would make the people proud of their God and His Covenant; and c) it would make neighboring nations marvel at the graciousness and justice of the God of Israel, at His closeness to His people and at their closeness to Him. Hence, Moses challenged the Israelites with these questions: “. . . What great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the Lord, our God, is to us whenever we call upon Him? Or what great nation has statutes and decrees that are as just as this whole law which I am setting before you today?”
In the second reading, James addresses the Church in general, rather than speaking just to a particular community or person as Paul often did in his letters. After dealing with the value of trials and temptations and refuting the argument that temptations come from God, James provides the only formal definition of religion in the Bible. He defines true religion as translating the love of God into deeds of loving kindness toward the vulnerable members of the community and to practice the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. More specifically, true religion means “to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” James reminds us that our love of God must be translated in our love for others especially the marginalized in our society.
In the Gospel Jesus describes true religion as serving God and His people with a pure heart. The Gospel describes the encounter of Jesus with the Pharisees and Scribes who had come to assess His teachings. These experts of law had found Jesus’ teachings to be an open violation of the Traditions of the Elders, and His implied and spoken claims to be blasphemous. They also noticed that Jesus’ disciples ignored the required ritual of washing hands before meals. The Pharisees observed them and insisted that all Jews should do so. The original meaning of the ritual was for external cleanliness, leading to sanctify the daily lives of the people, making them “holy as God is holy.” Jesus uses this occasion to teach them the following lessons: 1) do not teach human doctrines as dogmas of Faith; 2) sincerity of heart, internal disposition, purity and holiness are more important than mere external ritual observances; 3) keep your heart holy as it is the source of sins, vices and evil habits; and 4) external piety without internal holiness is hypocrisy, a meaningless act.
We need to keep the spirit of the laws and practices. We are blessed with many opportunities to grow in holiness such as participating in the Sacraments, and worshiping God on Sundays. How do we use these God-given opportunities? Do we use them to grow in faith, love God and one another? Many of us, like the Pharisees, have the tendency to pick and choose certain Commandments to follow, ignoring the others. For example, some actively do corporal works of charity while neglecting the spiritual side of this while others are interested in fulfilling only the “minimal obligations” of the Faith. They come to Mass late and leave early. For some, Sunday Mass is an obligation. The readings remind us that true religion or the worship of God is not just keeping or observing certain obligations and keeping God’s commandments but growing in faith and personal relationship with God.
Just a reminder that our next date night is Saturday, September 8th at 6:00 p.m. in the hall. This time it is going to be slightly different than before. At the request of participants, we will be having Eucharistic Adoration and Confession in the church followed by a potluck dinner in the hall. This is a great opportunity for couples to pray together and have a quiet time with the Lord in the Eucharist. Please see this week’s bulletin for information.
I am pleased to give you an update on our roofing project. The air conditioning is on now in the confessional, children’s chapel and back rooms of the church. The crew is still working on the south side of the church, and hopefully, they should be able to complete the work by next week. We did a pre-walk through of the roofing work, and the committee members were happy with the work. The committee identified a few areas to be fixed and painted. The roofing company is working on this, and they will complete this work before we do the final walk through. I am so happy to see the new roof, and I thank you all for your confidence and support.