Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings: Dt 4:1-2, 6-8; Jas 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27; Mk 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

“These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” “True religion cares for orphans and widows in their affliction, and keeps oneself unstained by the world.”

Our Creator gives each of us three tasks in life: what to believe, how to behave, and what to care about. Discrepancies between what we believe and how we behave reveal what we really care about. This is the discrepancy Jesus talks about. So, Jesus emphasizes the importance of what we care about. We are commanded to love the Father with the whole heart. WHOLE heart means undivided. What we care about is important because it makes a difference…a BIG difference. So, it is the greatest commandment.

Such wholehearted love is commanded because we fallen humans don’t do this naturally. Our hearts are made to experience admiration and happiness. Many things can attract our admiration and offer some measure of happiness. Discernment and free choice show the wisdom Moses promises.

At its shallowest level the heart is drawn to pleasure and possessions.  God made our hearts capable of admiring these things; they’re good. They give immediate and intense gratification. It makes a strong impression. But they are short-term. He doesn’t want us to set our heart on them as ultimate.

Then He gave our hearts a capacity for ego-gratification, for awareness of our standing in relation to others. This gives rise to comparison, the mother of pride. In fact, this is our default setting. It is the chief threat to an undivided heart. Scholars of the Holy Rule have long acknowledged its Pelagian or semi-pelagian bent. The lips manifest the ego. The ego crowds out the heart and becomes focused on performance and performance is focused on control. In a community of mature, adult men disposed to be monks, a heart set on comparison and performance will need to invent inferiors, scapegoats. The Letter of James identifies this as a barrier to love of neighbor, made in the image and likeness of God. Those living exclusively at this level will find it difficult to care about the widow and orphan. They experience sloth: resistance to the demands of love. Love often demands that we renounce control.

So, we have a third level much deeper in the heart that gives long-term happiness. It is the level of Reverence whereby we prefer others to self. We become about contribution instead of acquisitiveness. It is from here that we show the first mark of true religion: care for the disadvantaged. The deepest part of the heart is that given to worship. What we reverence we prefer to self; what we worship we prefer to everything. That is God, the God who is close to us. The second mark of true religion is shown when we prefer closeness to Him to all else that is offered by “the world”: those who limit themselves to the first two levels of the heart. Caring about things at the first two levels reveals the difference between honoring with the lips or with the heart. At the first two levels of pleasure and ego, the criterion for importance is satisfaction, effects on self. When we worship, when we honor from the heart, the criterion for importance is what is important in itself; All else gets its importance from its relation to that. To prefer that closeness to Him to immediate and intense gratification one must care about the goodness of God shown in His bringing us out of slavery. That goodness is eternal. When the heart is set on the eternal, then happiness, too, is eternal.