‘Listen to me, all of you, and understand there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile them, but things that come out of a person are what defile them. For it is from the human heart that evil intentions come’ (Mk. 7:20). ⧾
The lessons of the Mass of the 22nd Sunday speak to us very clearly of the essence of religious observance and its transformative effect on our lives. St. James summarises very succinctly: Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world (Jm. 1:27). His metaphorical definition of religion expresses the need for charity, that is, sacrificial love and the need for personal integrity. These are what make religion a matter of the heart. Through the Prophet Ezekiel, the Lord God declares: I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a new heart of flesh (36:26). Through the Prophet Jeremiah the Lord God promises: Then I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding (Jer. 3:15). Sacred Scripture makes it very clear that those who worship God in spirit and in truth must grow in God’s own likeness, from one degree of glory to another (2 Cor. 3:18).
When human beings are not seen to be in the image and likeness of God they lose their meaning. This may help us to understand why and how atrocities committed in the name of a false god can be justified in the name of the same false god by the most zealous of this false creed’s followers. Closer to home, this may also help us to understand the disregard for our freedoms that our governing classes have increasingly manifested during this pandemic. We have no meaning as far as they are concerned. This state of affairs is the result of the loss of Christian culture – however superficial the culture may be. There are consequences to our apostasy and we are beginning to feel the full brunt of the repudiation of the Faith on such a large scale. Our weekly celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass however, is, perhaps most especially now, a bold affirmation of our meaning and dignity. Sadly, without indulging in conspiracy theories that are always more and more plausible, this may also explain why our churches were closed and why there continue to be limitations on attendance. The struggle of our times is definitely a conflict between the many who have come to believe that we are a human collective, a faceless and malleable mass; and the few who still uphold the biblical understanding of the human person created in the image and likeness of the living God. ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord (Is. 55:8). We must then strive all the more to know the mind of God; and conform ourselves to the heart of God. As those who have gone before us, we must be encouraged and emboldened by this timely exhortation: Let us hold fast the confession of our hope, without wavering, for he who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near (Heb. 10:23-25).