Sunday, Sept. 2, is the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B, Cycle II).
Sept. 8 is the feast of the Nativity of Mary. If you search YouTube for “Nativity of Mary,” one choice is a beautiful presentation that pairs young singer Jackie Evancho singing Ave Maria with art depicting Mary’s birth.
It helps stress what Pope John Paul II said. When we contemplate “Mary the Child,” he said, “we are contemplating a little girl like every other,” but one who is at the same time “blessed among women.”
Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8; Psalms 15:2-5; James 1:17-18, 21-22, 27; Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Today’s readings are a celebration of intellect and will.
The Psalm states plainly what makes human beings’ actions special, what makes them “godly.”
To “live in the presence of the Lord,” says the Psalm, you must “think the truth in your heart.” You also have to “walk blamelessly” and “do justice.”
St. James also says that truth and goodness are what set us apart from creation. “He willed to give us birth by the word of truth, that we may be a kind of first fruits of his creatures. … Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves.”
To be fully human, we have to use our intellect and our will. But today’s readings remind us of something else: The greatest feat of our intellect is to know what God teaches, and the greatest act of our will is to do what he wants.
God says of his commandments: “Observe them carefully, for thus will you give evidence of your wisdom and intelligence to the nations.”
If we know and follow smart laws, we look smart. If we don’t, we look stupid. There are two ways to be “stupid” regarding God’s law. One is to “underthink” them to act according to our appetites without regard for God’s way. Another is to “overthink” them, which often leads to sinning in a very human way.
Moses commands simplicity in today’s first reading: “In your observance of the commandments of the Lord your God, which I enjoin upon you, you shall not add to what I command you nor subtract from it.”
Jesus points out in today’s Gospel that Moses’ followers fell short in the “adding and subtracting” part.
Pharisees “carefully wash their hands” and “purify cups and jugs and kettles and beds,” he says. They have added rules and overcomplicated their moral lives. They have overused their intellect and misused their will.
“This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me,” says Jesus. “In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts. You disregard God’s commandment, but cling to human tradition.”
We do this in many ways ourselves. We do it when we make religious obligation, instead of faith, the most important thing in our Catholic life. But we also do it when we make our own moral code, and not God’s, the ruler of our lives.
A good place to start is to avoid sin and serve others.
St. James says so in his letter: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”
Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas,
where Tom is writer in residence at Benedictine College.