Take this to heart

Take this to heart

Twenty-Second Sunday of the Year. Fr. Aelred Connelly preaches on the pure religion of the Law of Christ.

Keep the commandments of the Lord your God, just as I lay them down for you. Keep them, observe them and they will demonstrate to the peoples your wisdom and understanding.

Moses urges the people of Israel to take God’s commandments to heart. God is offering them a new way of living and a new identity: what great nation is there which has its gods as near as the Lord our God is to us whenever we call to him?

This is summed up in the two great commandments to love God and our neighbour as ourselves. In the second reading from the letter of St James, we hear that pure unspoilt religion in the eyes of God our Father is this: coming to the help of orphans and widows when they need it, and keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world.

In the Gospel Jesus quotes the prophet Isaiah, to show forth how the religious leaders of his time have gone astray in their interpretation of the Law: this people honours me only with lip service, while their hearts are far from me. The worship they offer me is worthless, the doctrines they teach are only human regulations.

Being ritually unclean does not matter in comparison with having an unclean heart. It is from within, from men’s hearts, that evil intentions emerge. It has often been said that the greatest loss in our time is the sense of sin, usually meaning a loss of a clear vision of what is good and what is evil, or a sense of what is right and what is wrong. This is usually in relation to a moral compass based on the external observance of universally agreed moral laws.

However, I think that the real loss is the sense of the depths of sin, which is the loss of our contact with the loving heart of God our Father. He is the one who is nearer to us than ourselves when we call on him from the depth of our hearts. What binds us to him are the ‘theological virtues’, faith, hope and charity, received as gifts of the Holy Spirit in Baptism and allied to the practice of the old ‘cardinal virtues’ of justice, temperance, courage and prudence.

Right acting has to do with right thinking and right judgement in our every day lives, based on the wisdom and understanding which arises from trying to live and internalise the Law. It is all a gift from the loving heart of the Father through Jesus, the Word made flesh for us, in the Holy Spirit. It is our way now of sharing in the life of the Holy Trinity. This is what we were made for, in the words of St James:

By his own choice he made us his children by the message of the Truth, so that we should be a sort of first fruits of what he had created.

So the Law given to Moses becomes the word that has been planted in us, so that we can save our souls. It takes an active co-operation, nature working with grace, in responding to God’s gift to us in Jesus through the Spirit working in our everyday choices. This is the geat Catholic Christian tradition of our Church, which states firm principles, but applies them pastorally, taking into account the real needs and conditions of God’s people in our own place and time.

We need to give care and consideration to the word of truth we are commanded to speak, that the message of truth be heard in words and actions of wisdom and understanding, sharing our rich tradition imaginatively from simplicity of heart, receiving the truth as well as giving it from loving hearts.

Our contemplative Dominican tradition of receiving the Word of God in hearts like Mary, the mother of Jesus, actively and humble waiting for the Word to speak, should prune the vine of the wisdom and understanding we impart in the preaching of the Gospel.

We need to speak words of encouragement to our world and to our age, that will bring a sense of hope to those without hope, and faith to those who lack faith, or who are discouraged in their lives, and ultimately of love to those who lack in love or being loved. To do this without losing our integrity and our street credibility is perhaps the strongest challenge today. At the end of the day, we are all in need of being redeemed.

Readings: Deut 4:1-2,6-8 | Jas 1:17-18,21-22,27 | Mark 7:1-8,14-15,21-23

fr Aelred Connelly is a member of the house of St Albert the Great, Edinburgh, and is chaplain to a Young Offenders' Institution.