Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
Twenty Second Sunday in Ordinary Time: What Comes Out of Us?
I like a good steak. We have some steak restaurants here in Tampa Bay which are as good as any in the world. I like turkey. I look forward to Thanksgiving. I like chicken. I make the best fried chicken in the world, or at least in my world. But I will not eat steak, turkey, or chicken on the Fridays of Lent. Is that because steak, turkey, or chicken are evil? No, they are not evil. But during Lent, I, and you, abstain from meat as a sacrifice to God to help us remember the Eternal Sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, and to help us prepare for the celebration of the banquet of life at Easter and at the end of our lives. Abstinence is a community prayer we offer during Lent.
The ancient Hebrews were given laws telling them to stay away from certain foods. The religious intent of the dietary restrictions was to show obedience to God. As time went on, the various items prohibited were seen to be evil because eating them was being disobedient. Actually pork, shell fish, etc are not evil in themselves.
“Hear me and understand,” Jesus says in today’s Gospel from the Gospel of Mark, “Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile. From within people, from their hearts come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance and folly. All these come from within, and they defile.”
So, are we basically evil? The reformed protestant theologians believe that mankind was created in the image and likeness of God, but due to sin has become totally corrupted. According to them sinfulness affects a person’s nature including
his will. This was taken to the extreme by the Predestinationists who are perhaps best exemplified by the colonial American Preacher, Jonathan Edwards’ and his famous sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. You may have studied that in school.
The Catholic belief is that we are basically good. Every person is made in the image and likeness of God and every person can bring a unique reflection of God to the world. Sin tempts us to do evil, but we can fight off the temptation. In Genesis 4, before Cain kills his brother Abel, God says to him, “Sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.”
We have sin lurking at the door of our hearts. We must master it. We can best do this by keeping our hearts pure. We cannot allow that which is evil to have a toehold within us. That means that we have to be on our guard. A battle is being waged for our souls. Evil lurks. Suggestions are made: we hear people say things like, “It’s not all that bad. It’s a new world now.” We are in conversations where people say, “Living together is certainly now accepted even if the Church says its wrong. After all, two social security checks are more important than traditional morality.” or “So what if you get drunk, everybody else does.” or “You don’t want to be the only virgin in your class do you? Sure, this or that is wrong, but there can be exceptions.”
And before we know what hit us, our thoughts have been turned to evil. We question what is right or wrong, and open the door for evil to take hold of our hearts.
The contemporary Christian group, Casting Crowns, captured the necessity of being on our guard to protect our hearts in their song, Slow Fade.
It’s a slow fade when you give yourself away.
It’s a slow fade when black or white have turned to gray, Thoughts invade, choices are made, a price will be paid, When you give yourself away.
People never crumble in a day.
It’s a slow fade.©CCLI License #2368115
That’s a great line, It’s a slow fade when black or white have turned to gray. Instead of saying, “This is wrong; this is sinful,” we compromise. In our minds we say, “It’s OK for them to live together. It’s OK for the kids to behave like this or that.” What should be black or white, has turned to gray within us. It is only a matter of time then, a slow fade, when we ourselves begin acting on our gray thoughts.
And then that which comes from within defiles us. The thought of using others for our own selfishness, be that envy or lust, taking what is theirs, adultery, greed malice, licentiousness, etc, etc, all begin from within, from the gray thoughts.
We have to put up a fight against evil. We have to remain pure for the Lord. To do this we need the grace of the sacraments, particularly penance. We need the strength of the Eucharist. And we need the company of our Catholic Community. We need positive friends. We need accountability partners, even in the most informal sense of people for whom we need to protect our morality.
Be careful little eyes what you see
It’s the second glance that ties your hands as darkness
pulls the strings.
Be careful little ears what you hear,
When flattery leads to compromise, the end is always near,
Be careful little lips what you say,
For empty words and promises lead broken hearts
Be careful little feet where you go,
For it’s the little feet behind you that are sure to follow.
©CCLI License #2368115
Jesus speaks about hypocrisy today. All of us hate hypocrites. We can’t stand it when we learn that models of morality have been leading secret immoral lives. We are upset when those whom we respect are revealed to be indecent, anything but deserving our deference. We agree with the Lord in his attack on the hypocrites. But then Jesus turns the focus of his teaching towards us. He says that which is evil is what comes out of us. He forces each of us to ask, “Am I a hypocrite? What is coming out of me? Where is this coming from?”
We need to be concerned with fighting against any evil that might be lurking inside us. We can easily proclaim this or that wrong in others, but if we are to avoid being hypocrites ourselves, we need to control our thoughts. We need to protect ourselves against that which will turn black and white into gray. We need to be wholesome. We need to be pure of heart.
We all hate hypocrisy. When we are the hypocrites, we hate ourselves. God does not want us hating ourselves. We can and must replace self-loathing with love, His love.
We belong to God. He is among us and, through the grace of our baptism, He is within us. His very presence within us will help us win the battle for our souls. So we join Hillsong United and proclaim:
My heart and my soul,
I give you control,
Consume me from the inside out, Lord,
Let justice and praise
Become my embrace,
To love you from the inside out,
©CCLI License #2368115