Sunday, August 30, 2015

Internal Dispositions

Why are you here at church? That's mostly a rhetorical question, just think about it for a bit. Why are you here? Because today in the gospel Jesus has harsh words for those who practice religion only in an external manner and whose hearts don't correspond to their actions. So again, why are you here?

Today Jesus is getting ganged up on a little bit by the scribes and Pharisees, so let's understand the opponents. The scribes were the scholars, they were the kind of people who could quote Jewish law by chapter and verse. The Pharisees were a renewal movement within Israel, and they wanted to restore God's favor to Israel through strict observance of God's law. According to the Pharisees' way of thinking, Israel had lost God's favor by being disobedient to the law, and all Israel's problems could be explained this way, especially the occupation by the Romans. So, they thought, in order to regain God's favor they needed to be strictly observant to God's law. And just to be safe, they had started to go above and beyond God's law, just to make sure they'd covered all their bases. So, God's law had stipulated ritual cleansing for priests offering sacrifice at the temple, but the Pharisees' oral tradition had extended ritual cleansing to every Jew at every meal so that every meal had a sacrificial element, and just to make sure God was happy.

So the Pharisees notice Jesus's disciples not observing ritual cleansing and this upsets them, not just because they like everybody to do fancy ceremonies, but because they think that without ritual observance they can never be restored to God's good grace. Their intention is good, but their critical mistake is that they disconnected ritual purity from purity of the heart. They disconnected their external actions from their internal disposition, and they focused only on external action.

Only his grinchy attitude is condemned, not his movie
So because Jesus knows this well, that they've completely separated their actions from their disposition, he quotes Isaiah to explain this to them: "This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me." Now, the Pharisees think they have the whole law and all of the prophets on their side, so they really don't like having Isaiah thrown in their face. But with that line, Jesus explains their fundamental error to them, but then he quotes another line: "in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts." Jesus uses the second line to explain how they've taken their own precepts, their own additions to the rules, and made them law for everyone. The whole thing is summarized in Jesus's explanation "You disregard God's commandment but cling to human tradition."

Now, sometimes this line is used against Catholics by Protestants who misunderstand the importance of Tradition rather than just focusing on Scripture or who don't like Catholic devotional practices like the Rosary. But I hope you can explain to them, and I hope you understand yourself, that Jesus condemns here merely human traditions, and even then only at the expense of God's commandments. So Jesus obviously doesn't condemn all human traditions, like my family's tradition of watching the Grinch (animated, not live action) every Christmas season, or eating peanuts and cracker jacks at a baseball game. Jesus doesn't condemn that. Nor does he condemn our adherence to papal authority or our love of the Rosary, because they aren't merely human traditions. They spring from Scripture, which itself came from Apostolic Tradition.

I'm fairly sure Jesus is a baseball fan
But when we think about the things that look like merely human tradition, like the importance of the Pope or our love of Mary, we have to think about why we do these things, and this brings us back to the original question: Why are you here? If you are here because this is what you always do, if you are at church because you were raised this way and you might as well keep doing it, then you might say you attend church because it's just a family tradition. Then you have neglected the first and greatest commandment to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and you are clinging to human tradition.

If that's why you come to church, simply because that's what you've always done and your heart isn't really in it, God can work with that. God is generous. We want to get to a point where we're going to church out of a deep and meaningful love of God. Really, we don't want to be just going to church at all, because that's just an external action. We want to come and know that we are contributing our part to a meaningful relationship in our lives.

Ok, let me say that again. Just going to church is an external action, "this people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me." In everything we do, starting with the attitude with which we go to Church, we need to make sure that the disposition of our hearts honors God, not just the things we do externally.

This man: not offering sacrifice
So I've told you what to do, honor God with your heart by the way you attend Mass, but I've not told you how to do it. Here's how you do it: participate in Mass. And I don't mean by reading or singing or performing some other ministry, I mean by offering your heart to the sacrifice of the mass. The Mass is truly a sacrifice, where the sacrifice Jesus offered on the Cross is made present again. Each of us are part of the priesthood of the baptized, and each of us are called to offer sacrifice to God here at Mass. So don't come here expecting to be entertained, or expecting to get something out of it, that's not the point. Come here and offer all of your sufferings to God, offer up all those you know who are suffering, who need your prayer. Back when the priest used to face the same direction as the people (don't say the priest turned his back on the people, that wasn't it, rather the priest and the people faced God together), the idea that we were all moving towards God to offer sacrifice was much clearer than it is today. You are not here to be entertained, you are here to offer sacrifice, and the fact that you do receive something, the Body and Blood of Jesus, is due solely to his goodness.

So consider well why you come to Mass and why you bother with the life of faith at all. Don't just come because that's what you've always done. Come to unite your sacrifice and your sufferings to those of Jesus here on the altar. By doing that, you can unite your external action and your internal disposition. As our actions and our hearts become more in line with each other and with Christ, that prepares us for eternal life.

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