1st / 2nd September 2018

posted 4 Sept 2018, 06:06 by Parish Office

Homily for the Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

(1 & 2/9/18)


What causes some people to move away from God?  For some people, it’s a big event that perhaps causes them to lose faith, such as maybe the death of a close friend or relative.  For others, it can happen rather more slowly – a gradual cooling off.  We just heard some rather strong words from Our Lord for the Pharisees.  The Pharisees were supposed to be the ones who, as far as possible, perfectly obeyed everything that God asked of them.  But what had happened, was that their love for God had grown cold, and they had gradually, perhaps without realising it at times, replaced the religion God had given them with a religion of their own, and at times when there was a conflict between the Ten Commandments and their human rules, they ended up following the human rules instead.


The Gospel we heard today is actually an edited-down version of the full text.  If you open your Bibles to Mark, chapter seven, and read through to the end of verse twenty-three, you will see that Our Lord gives an example of something that clearly violates the Ten Commandments.  I wonder if anyone here would be able to tell me, if I asked, what the fourth commandments is.  To save you embarrassment, it’s “honour your father and your mother”.  Notice there’s no mention of the word “sometimes”.  But the Pharisees violated it, using something that seemed to be fairly good and holy.  Serving God is a good thing, as is giving of your time, talents, money and material goods in the service of God.  And surely, giving God more than just a little bit is a good thing too.  So what would happen, is that someone with a certain amount of wealth, or possessions, would dedicate them to God.  But here comes the crunch:  because they were now dedicated to God, it was forbidden to use them for anything else, including helping their parents.  So in this way the Commandment was declared null and void.  It’s a bit like you had a staggeringly huge amount of money, maybe a million pounds, and you put all it into a savings account which meant it couldn’t be touched for the next five years.  Along come your parents, who have hit hard times, and they say to you, “You’ve got lots of money.  Could you lend us a bit just to pay a few of the bills?”  But you can’t, because the money is locked away.  Maybe not a perfect comparison, but it gives a bit of an idea of what was going on in Our Lord’s time.


The custom of ritual cleansing, referred to in the Gospel, had led to other distortions too.  The idea behind washing your hands and arms before eating was that you might have come into contact with people who were non-Jews, who were ritually unclean, or you had been handling profane things, things that were not sacred.  So you washed your hands, so that you didn’t “contaminate” yourself and make yourself ritually unclean by eating with unclean hands.  It wasn’t so much about avoiding bacteria, but a form of religious contamination.  Jesus said it was nonsense.  You can see that at the end of the Gospel, the people found it difficult to think that this idea was wrong, so Jesus has to explain it to them – eating doesn’t make you unclean.  It’s the evil intentions that come out of the heart that makes someone unclean:  fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, malice, deceit, indecency, envy, slander, pride, folly.  This connects with what we are told at the Sermon on the Mount, where it’s not just a matter of avoiding doing certain things, but even thinking about them.  Don’t just avoid adultery – avoid lustful thoughts as well.  Don’t just avoid murder – avoid angry thoughts that could eventually lead to it.  Don’t let sin get the smallest grip on you.


The first and second readings today refer us back to the idea of pure and unspoilt religion – in the first reading we are told that there is wisdom in God’s teachings, and that they are not to be altered (as the Pharisees had done).  And in the second reading, once again it says that with God, “there is no such thing as alteration, no shadow of a change” and that we should keep ourselves uncontaminated by the world.


Unfortunately, today, some think that this no longer applies.  I’ve not found a sell-by date anywhere in a footnote to the Ten Commandments, saying that they don’t apply after nineteen-sixty-something, or if you live in a country where the other people around you live a liberal and secular lifestyle.


For 1,900 years, all Christians had been united in their condemnation of contraception.  But at the Lambeth Conference on 14th August 1930, the first break occurred, with the Anglican Communion deciding that they woud allow it, but, I quote, “The Conference records its strong condemnation of the use of any methods of conception-control for motives of selfishness, luxury, or mere convenience”.  The United Federal Council of Churches followed suit in 1931, which led to strongly-worded protests from various Protestants about this decision.  But one of the most insightful comments came from the Washington Post on 22nd March 1931:


“Carried to its logical conclusion, the committee's report, if carried into effect, would sound the death-knell of marriage as a holy institution by establishing degrading practices which would encourage indiscriminate immorality. The suggestion that the use of legalized contraceptives would be "careful and restrained" is preposterous.”


At this time in America, there were laws declaring contraceptives illegal, the result of Protestant legislators seeing this as the virtuous thing to do.


Pope Pius XI wrote an encyclical in 1930 re-affirming traditional teaching, but it was in 1968 that Pope Paul VI famously predicted the effects that these “new ideas” would have:


1) An increase in marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards.

2) Men reducing women to being mere objects of pleasure, rather than partners to be shown care and affection.

3) Governments may also decide to use these methods to force forms of population-limitation on their citizens (think of China’s ‘one-child’ policy).


All of these predictions have come true, with so much pain in families as a result.  This whole change in mentality is a modern example of people, some perhaps rather well-intentioned, laying aside the commandments of God to cling to human reasoning instead.  The commandment forbidding adultery covers a whole spectrum of sins, rather than just that one sin.  Our Lord said that we need to avoid wrong thoughts, not just the final outcome, and the commandment itself could probably be more accurately translated as “You shall not commit impure acts”.


I’ve hardly scratched the surface of this issue, and I’ve left a lot of things unexplained as a result.  But I do think it is something of an elephant in the room that is behind so many growing lukewarm in their faith and abandoning the Lord.  There is a lot of research and various books and articles vindicating God’s ways, but you need to do a bit of searching to find them.  Yet the search is well worth it.


Please note : Some of the information was taken from https://www.ewtn.com/library/PROLENC/ENCYC098.HTM