The Gospel that is proclaimed today (Mk 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23) has us reflect on the purity of our hearts and how we allow, what has been embedded deep within us, to come to the surface. And when it does, we are to notice how it can influence our thought patterns, the choice of words we speak, and the behavior each one of us often feels compelled to engage in.
In this portion of the Gospel, the Evangelist St. Mark, gives a racial stereotype for his Gentile listeners of how his own fellow Jews were often perceived by others at that time. In fact, how he describes them and their customs, comes across as “more Jewish than the Jews themselves.”
Born and bred in Ireland and immigrating to the U.S. when I was in my 20's, how the average American perceived the Irish surprised me. I don’t wear green, nor do I have red hair or freckles. I was not brought up on a diet of corn beef and cabbage, drink alcohol in excess or go around greeting people with “The top of the morning to you!”
You may laugh, but maybe underneath, in my heart of hearts, I may be deeply resentful by the racial profiling. I may be secretly angry at being stereotyped. But then, you would never know. After all, I’m an Irishman! We don’t show or emotions readily. Instead, we instead use poetry, stories, and wit to express ourselves.
But this, in a way, demonstrates how difficult it often is to trace the origin of external actions and behaviors that we often get ourselves caught up in. It takes honesty and courage to track our thoughts and actions back to their source, to the secret chambers of the heart and soul.
It is often easier to make judgments about externals - about spoken words, messages or public statements - about how someone dresses or appears in public, about how someone prays or offers Mass or the type of car they drive or work they do.
Don’t get me wrong - words and actions are incredibly important - they carry force and influence the world around us for good or for bad. But so do the secrets of our hearts. They also carry equal weight and significance. Our words and actions can be out of place, wrong, inappropriate, displeasing to God. Our heart and soul can be at times in a dark place, especially when it has been affected by pride, resentment, lust or anger.
We can dress up or paper over the cracks that sometimes appear on the surface of a building such as our house or church. We can do likewise with our relationships or even our bodies. But what if by constantly covering up, we are then distracted from a personal weakness or vulnerability, an unresolved hurt or a painful memory, something that has not been completely healed and then, given an excuse, it is easily triggered and up it comes? Then the waters of that deep well out of which flows all our motivations quickly become impure.
That is what Christ speaks of in the Gospel we have just heard. They are his words of caution to me and to you. And he speaks to us, not as Americans, Irish, Europeans, Asians, African or Latinos. But as a brother and as a savior. We are His family and His Church. It belongs to Him and so do we. As St. James, from our Lord’s own family circle reminded us in Second Reading, “Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you, and is able to save your soul”. S.O.S.
Be careful. The evil we see out there and might want to subdue, might, in fact, be hiding also within our own heart. And that’s a tender place, easily bruised. So during these days, we should find the courage, space and the time to make a “thorough examination of conscience” - no window dressing, no hiding behind a shield, and that includes laptops, smartphones and plates and dishes that can be easily broken to pieces. The Good News is that Christ, who rose from the dead, can put all the broken pieces together. But He never puts back the broken pieces the same way we want them. Suffering and death to the old self must come first. Then all things will be new and a fresh start will begin.
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time