Gospel of Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23 NAB
When the Pharisees with some scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus, they observed that some of his disciples ate their meals with unclean, that is, unwashed, hands. For the Pharisees and, in fact, all Jews, do not eat without carefully washing their hands, keeping the tradition of the elders. And on coming from the marketplace they do not eat without purifying themselves. And there are many other things that they have traditionally observed, the purification of cups and jugs and kettles and beds. So the Pharisees and scribes questioned him,
“Why do your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders but instead eat a meal with unclean hands?” He responded, “Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written: This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts. You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.” He summoned the crowd again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile. “From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile.”
I often hear parents describe their kids to me with such phrases as, “he’s a good kid – he gets good grades, plays sports, and has a lot of friends.” It’s tempting for us as parents to judge our kids by exterior standards such as grades, activities, and popularity. It’s not completely unfounded either. A person has to work hard to earn good grades and have self-discipline and ambition to strive in sports or music. We’re happy to hear other kids find ours fun to be with and usually it means our child is kind or other-centered enough to form relationships. At the same time, we can make the mistake Jesus so often criticizes the Pharisees for – assuming the external conformities automatically equate to internal virtues. For example, I recently saw a news report about a robbery committed by a high school student who had just graduated valedictorian of her class. Some excellent athletes have committed crimes too and popular kids can be leaders or bullies.
As a mother I try to step back periodically and evaluate the external v. internal obedience of my children as it relates to discipline and forming good habits in them. It can be tempting to be complacent about their spiritual life if they are doing well in school and staying out of trouble. On the flip side, days when I feel frustrated by my teenage boy’s relentless messiness and disorganization I have to step back and appreciate the positive internal qualities he has and remind myself, “but he has a good heart.” Even if remembering to turn in homework is a struggle, even if I find a pile of smelly dirty socks under his bed, even if I find pop cans and food scraps in the living room; he is a kind, caring, compassionate, and loving son. I have to remember to look interiorly and not get so caught up in the exterior. On a particularly frustrating day, I stopped, hugged my son, and said “I love you, even when you are difficult.” He hugged me back and said, “I love you too, even when you are difficult.” This struck me and made me appreciate the deeper love and relationship we had which had been overshadowed that day by the superficial discord. We had a good laugh together and I thanked God for that moment. Now when I tell people about my kids, I try not to describe their achievements but rather their character and personality.
As Catholics we can misjudge exterior practices for interior holiness as well. If a person goes to Mass, volunteers at Church, and is financially generous, we assume that they must be holy; or at least if we do those things we will be sufficiently holy. However, authentic goodness and genuine holiness proceed from inner virtue and love. This does not mean we should abandon exterior practices of devotion but we must continually strive for authenticity by harmonizing our interior motives with our exterior practices and vice versa.
St. Francis de Sales, in his spiritual classic Introduction to the Devout Life, challenges us to evaluate our spiritual life in context of the whole Gospel to guard against doing what is easy and appears holy while neglecting that which God might be calling us to in the moment or might transform our hearts at a deeper level. He writes,
|One man sets great value on fasting, and believes himself to be leading a very devout life, so long as he fasts rigorously, although the while his heart is full of bitterness;—and while he will not moisten his lips with wine, perhaps not even with water, in his great abstinence, he does not scruple to steep them in his neighbor’s blood, through slander and detraction. Another man reckons himself as devout because he repeats many prayers daily, although at the same time he does not refrain from all manner of angry, irritating, conceited or insulting speeches among his family and neighbors. This man freely opens his purse in almsgiving, but closes his heart to all gentle and forgiving feelings towards those who are opposed to him; while that one is ready enough to forgive his enemies, but will never pay his rightful debts save under pressure. Meanwhile all these people are conventionally called religious, but nevertheless they are in no true sense really devout.|
De Sales goes on to define true devotion as simply love of God which “not only leads us to do well, but to act carefully, diligently, and promptly.” It rests on spiritual receptivity to God’s will and a desire to please Him in every action of our day. Jesus says essentially the same thing to the Pharisees. The external observance of the Law demonstrates obedience and was originally intended to train the Israelites in virtue and relationship with God. The Pharisees in this passage seem to have lost the connection at some point, opting for an easier external obedience that excused or covered up an internal disobedience.
Whether it’s our kids, spouse, friends, colleagues, or ourselves, Christ urges us this week to take some time for introspection and gain perspective about the real state of our hearts and those we love.
- Which practices in the spiritual life come naturally for you? (e.g. giving financially, making time for prayer, kindness toward others, volunteering, fasting, learning the faith…)
- Which practices do you find difficult or less appealing?
- Read the quote by St. Francis de Sales again. Can you identify a disconnect in your own life? How might you remedy it?
- What inner qualities do you want for your children? How might you nurture or develop those qualities? (e.g. deep faith, prayerfulness, compassion, enthusiasm, respectfulness, joy, gentleness, self-control…)
Make a Resolution (Practical Application):
- Identify one vice you cover up or rationalize away the most. Practice the opposite virtue this week. Each day determine specifically how you will do so. (For example – if you gossip or complain about a particular person in your life – resolve to say something kind and affirming to that person if you will see them that day; make a list of five good qualities they possess; consider whether you are being fair in your frustration toward them; do something kind for them; offer up a prayer for them such as an Our Father or a rosary.)
- Intentionally affirm someone in your daily life – your kids, spouse, friends, colleague… Tell them an inner quality you appreciate about them and the external way you see them display it.
~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2015
|* These Sunday meditations are intended to engage the heart and imagination in prayer and include a practical application (resolutions) to your daily life. In our presentation on prayer I offer a more detailed discussion of ways to pray with Scripture that can take 5 minutes, 15 minutes, or half an hour and vary in depth depending on your time-frame and prayer goals.|