Fr. Paul's Homily
This week someone shared with me a story. “A man arrived at his courtside seat for the seven and final game of the NBA finals. Next to him was a vacate seat. Assuming the person was not there yet he asked the person on the other side of the seat, ‘Is someone going to be seated here?’ The man answered that the seat belonged to his wife who died and that this would be the first game they did not attend together. The other man offered his condolences but asked, ‘Couldn’t you find a friend or relative to attend the game with you tonight?’ The man responded, ‘Oh, they are all at the funeral!’”
While traditions or customs can be good, we should never let them take the place of compassion and love of neighbor. Let’s talk about this in relationship to the gospel.
In our Gospel Jesus is once again being criticized by the Pharisees who witness his disciples eating without first washing their hands. The Pharisees are not concerned about the hygiene of the disciples, but rather are being very picky about the many laws that governed all aspects of Jewish life. Jesus responds by quoting Isaiah the prophet who said, “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” Jesus goes on to explain that nothing that enters the body will make a person defiled, but what comes out of the human heart. From the heart we can find good or evil. If the heart is good, the actions will follow.
Jesus is not against ritual or traditions. He was circumcised as a baby, learned the Hebrew scriptures as a youth, attended the synagogue on the Sabbath…all traditions of the Jewish religion.
We need good ritual and traditions. These would be those things that we do repeatedly that carry special meaning and affirm certain positive values. Traditions we might know are: saying “I Love you” to your spouse before you leave in the morning; telling your children that you love them as you send them to bed; watching a certain Christmas movie as a family every year; going to a certain Mass on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. All these are traditions that are meant to teach us something positive and good.
But Traditions can lose their meaning, and they can become empty actions. It is up to each of us to renew the meaning contained within the ritual. Last week, we had one of our couples renew their vows on their 50th wedding anniversary. Those vows could be empty words, or they can be a profound statement of re-committed love. Many of you a wedding band on your finger. This can be an empty symbol, or it can be a constant reminder of the gift of this person to you and your commitment to her/him.
Think of the positive habits that you have in your life and ask yourself, “Why do I do this?” In asking the question, you will be able to find the meaning behind the habit.
So, every night you kiss your kids and say ‘I love you’…why do you do this?
Every Sunday morning you get dressed and come to church…why do you do this?
You take Communion to the sick every Friday…we do you do this?
You hug your grandchildren every time you see them…we do you do this?
When it comes to religious ritual, it requires us to find out the meaning of the action or words to make up the ritual. In this day and age of googling, we can find out most things at the touch of the keys. For example:
“Why do you keep changing your position at Mass...standing, sitting, kneeling?? Each position has a purpose: standing is a position of attention and a position of honor. Thus we stand at the beginning of Mass to come to attention and we stand at the Gospel as a sign of honor. Sitting is a reflective, listening position while kneeling symbolizes penance or adoration which is why we kneel for the consecration.” Each gesture has meaning. When we know the meaning and live it out, then the ritual becomes alive and powerful.
All good Traditions are grounded in the Love of God and the Love of Neighbor. When the Tradition becomes disconnected from these commandments, then these traditions can become harmful and misguided. I invite us to look at the traditions that we have in our lives and understand why we do what we do. Then ask the question, “How does this tradition further the Love of God and the Love of Neighbor?” Let us keep our hearts and our actions grounded upon this love.