Reasons to Do (and Say) the Right Things

Reflections on forthcoming Mass readings by Tom and April Hoopes.

Aug. 30 is the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B). Sept. 6 is the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time.


On Sept. 6, Pope Benedict makes a pastoral visit to Viterbo and Bagnoregio, ancient Italian cities north of Rome.


Sept. 7 is Labor Day, and Sept. 8 is Mary’s birthday. Why not make a cake at your Labor Day gathering and have the kids sing “Happy Birthday” to Mary? Mary is, of course, our Mother, too — because she’s the Mother of Christ, our brother; the Mother of the Church, which we make up; and she was designated our Mother at the crucifixion. Important family members deserve a birthday cake, right?

Aug. 30 Readings

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

Our Take

In today’s first reading, Moses tries to motivate the people to follow the commandments. He gives these reasons: “That you may live, and may enter in and take possession of the land.” Then he adds another — “for thus will you give evidence of your wisdom and intelligence to the nations.”

These all seem like pretty selfish reasons: to live, to get land, and to look smart.

But they’re not. They are centered on the community, not the self. He’s asking individuals to follow the Law not for themselves, but for the nation.

The Gospel gives us an example of what happens when the motivation behind a moral code becomes self-centered instead of community-centered.

The Pharisees have created lots of permutations of the law, lists of what makes one unclean, complicated rituals, rules that are about the individual’s membership in the community. Jesus informs them: “You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.”

And lo and behold, the Pharisees don’t have what Moses used to motivate: They aren’t living as fully as they could; they don’t have possession of the Holy Land, and other nations aren’t particularly im--pressed with them. Quite the contrary, Jesus uses their moral code as an example of what not to do.

St. James shows the way out: “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.”

To keep yourself unstained by the world, Christ provides a handy list of what to avoid.

Sept. 6 Readings

Isaiah 35:4-7; Psalm 146:7-10; James 2:1-5; Mark 7:31-37

Our Take

Today’s Gospel is a good template for what happens to us when we’re converted to a commitment to Christ — or reconverted, or recommitted, or even just reminded of our commitment.

First of all, it isn’t our doing. It’s Christ’s. He touches us; he looks to heaven; he groans; he commands our ears: “Be opened!” The movement to Christ isn’t us exerting effort — this Gospel shows Jesus exerting the effort.

Secondly, he loosens not just our ears to hear him, but our tongues to speak about it. He gives us the ability to speak about him, then he sets the terms. In today’s Gospel, the terms are strict: Don’t tell anyone. The instructions he gave to us are also strict: Teach the nations my commandments.

The third stage of our reconversion is the first that involves our own action — we should tell others about him. In the Gospel, the people can’t help but tell about what he has done: “They were exceedingly astonished.”

We need to be exceedingly astonished.

We need the enthusiasm of Isaiah, who can barely contain himself when sharing what the Lord plans to do: “Say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong; fear not! Here is your God; he comes with vindication; with divine recompense, he comes to save you.”

Who will reassure the frightened people in our day?

Tom Hoopes, former Register executive editor, is writer

in residence at Benedictine College. He and his wife, April, are contributors

to Faith & Family magazine.