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"FIRST IMPRESSIONS"

22nd SUNDAY (B) August 29, 2021

Deut. 4: 1-2, 6-8; PS. 15;
James 1: 17-18, 21b-22, 27; Mk. 7: 1-8,14-15, 21-23

By: Jude Siciliano, OP

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Dear Preachers:

Real estate agents have a saying, "There are 3 things that count when considering a piece of property, Location, Location, Location." Or, to put it another way, "Location is everything." You could say the same thing about some very notable biblical stories: where they take place is very important to help us understand their meaning. For example, when Jesus instructs the crowd and his disciples in his famous Sermon, he goes up to a mountain to do it; a traditional place for the ancients to seek out and worship their gods. Besides having a sacred quality, mountains were also considered places of authority, where one could receive a teaching "from on high." The geographical context for the Sermon on the Mount helps our reading of Jesus’ words and helps us lend a special ear to what he has to say – from the mountain.

Notice Moses’ location in today’s first reading; he is speaking to the Israelites as they are about to enter the Promise Land. Moses addresses the people after their 40 years of wandering, a time when they were led by God and when their faith was tested and grew. Moses is speaking at a very important location. He calls the people together and tells them that they are at a crucial point in their history and they must pause to reflect on their past and future. Moses invites the people to consider, not only their physical location, but their spiritual location as well. He tells them to reflect on the God who has been with them and brought them to this point in their journey. Once again, as he did at Sinai, he is placing God’s law before them and is offering them another chance to choose God and God’s ways for their lives.

God’s law isn’t meant to be narrow and restrictive, Mosses suggests to the people. Rather, observing the "statutes and decrees" will make them a wise and intelligent people, admired by all the other nations. And more, their greatness will reflect the God they have; will announce to others that their God is close to and available to them in prayer. How different from the gods of the other nations, who were demanding and instilled fear in their devotees, even requiring human sacrifice. "For what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the Lord, our God, is close to us whenever we call on God?" From their present location the Israelites have a chance to draw on their past experiences of God and choose to stay with the God who has given them life. If they do renew their commitment to God, they must live according to their God’s ways and so be a people admired by all; not because of their own gifts and prowess, but because of the great God who has chosen them and blessed them in wisdom’s path.

This law Moses was offering to the people would not only guide and teach them how to be faithful to God. It would also nourish and strengthen them through good times and bad. As their lives changed from being a nomadic people to being a settled and prosperous nation; as times and circumstances changed again and their fortunes declined and they found themselves in a harsh location once more, exiles in Babylon; as they returned from slavery back to a destroyed Israel – they would need to constantly reinterpret the "statutes and decrees" so that no matter in what physical, or spiritual location they found themselves, they could still live in a way that reflected the God who was "...so close."

To help them interpret and apply the Law in all their present and future locations, they would need guidance. The ones who fulfilled this role were the priests, Levites and scribes. A century or two before Christ the first Pharisees emerged and became famous for their faithful interpretation and observance of the Law. They did their best to adapt the law to new political, religious and cultural situations. They tried to build a hedge, consisting of observances and rituals, around the Law to protect it from creeping secularism and the diluting influence of the foreign dominant world in which the Jewish people found themselves. Their intentions were noble; but of course, some got carried away.

The Pharisees have been the "heavies" in the gospel. Almost every time they are around they are a lightening rod for conflict with Jesus. But let’s give them their due. They seem to be sincere in the questions they pose to Jesus today about ritual purity. The surrounding non-Jewish world was very alluring to even faithful Jews. It had its easier ways and the gods of other religions didn’t require the same daily allegiance and holy path the God of the Jews did. What helped the Jews’ keep faithful to God were deliberate and constant reminders in their daily lives, such as ritual washings. By observing them and other daily rituals, they could express and be reminded that they had a specific religious identity; they were members of the chosen people. So, concerning ritual washings, we are not talking about a person’s hygienic practices, but the expressions of their religious commitment.

The Pharisees wanted people to observe these practices for good reason, as demonstrations of fidelity to God and as a sign of membership in the Jewish community. They wanted to know why the followers of Jesus, a religious teacher, didn’t practice the observances that other teachers required? "The tradition of the elders" was an unwritten code of regulations, a way for devout Jews to observe and take seriously the Law of God. It was the "hedge" to protect the devout from even get close to breaking the Law. But Jesus notes that this group of Pharisees’ religious observance was mere lip service and their way of observing the "tradition of the elders" only kept them blind to the central matters of their faith. If you want to discuss true observance and holiness, Jesus says, then let’s talk about sincere religious observance that reflects the holiness of a heart turned to God and actions that show love of neighbor.

Jesus wasn’t critical of all the Pharisees, for like them, he too loved the Law and God’s covenant expressed in the Law. But Jesus wanted to lead people to the heart of the Law, the relationship it could foster with God. He wasn’t concerned with minutiae, the scrupulous observance of the externals that had no meaning for the ordinary Jew. Instead he wanted, as Moses did, to show how to follow God, not in superficial ways, but in the deepest parts of our hearts, where we love and make our commitments. True religion, not just rituals and external observance, is what Jesus, Moses and all the greatest religious leaders urge us to practice.

The location we find Jesus today is a place of conflict with some Pharisees and scribes. He is like Moses calling them to another location; to leave behind ways that are not of God and to choose the ways he points out to them. He wants a change of heart, a new and purified heart, for the people. He wants us to think and work out of a heart fully loyal to God, turned way from evil ways to a new place of love of God and service in God’s name. Location, location, location! Where is our heart? Where do we find it residing? Those who follow Jesus and accept his ways, go to the heart of the matter. Their hearts have had a change of location and because of Jesus, reside in the very heart of God.

Jesus isn’t canceling out the importance of acts of piety and external religious behavior. But he does dismiss a holiness based on food laws and ritual cleansings. If a person’s heart is in God and with God, one’s acts will be pure, whether or not one attends to proper ritual washing. The Pharisees felt threatened by Jesus. His teachings and manner of life showed that for him, holiness had nothing to do with superficial rituals. Jesus points out and criticizes a claim to holiness that is based on human achievement through human-determined acts of piety. Rather, he wants a heart turned towards God and, if that happens, a person will reflect holiness---that before God, they are clean.

Jesus quotes Isaiah and aligns himself with the ancient Hebrew prophets who, like Jesus in today’s gospel story, criticized people’s false pieties – outward observances that lacked hearts committed to God – as mere religious lip service. So how do Jesus’ words make us feel today sitting in our pews in worship? Just because our "location" is right, we are at church doing the proper thing, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t get out hearts checked out. Are we sincerely trying to live during the week the faith we profess today in this assembly? Do our hearts reflect Jesus’ heart in his love of God and passion to do God’s will? Do we look out at the world with eyes influenced by our cleansed hearts and feel compassion for those ignored by the chilled hearts of our society? Are our hearts touched by the forgiveness Jesus offers us and then do we offer that forgiveness to those who have offended us? Or, are our hearts locked up, inaccessible to God, our neighbors and ourselves?

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:

https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/082921.cfm

QUOTABLE

A Stranger with a Rope…

[A note from Mary La Voy: "This was written by a prisoner at Lakeland Correctional Facility in Coldwater, Michigan. The warden passed it on to us."]

Prison is like a pool of deep water, at first so clear that you can easily see the surface and grasp the reaching hands of family and loved ones holding you, keeping you from sinking.

But years pass, and grips tire and loosen, one by one finally letting go until all are gone, and you begin to slowly sink, deeper and deeper into the murky depths that have become your world, and the light above slowly fades into pieces of imperfect memory until, finally, all that remains of hope is an unclear vision of a stranger far above somewhere with a rope… and the prayer that she will throw it.

JUSTICE BULLETIN BOARD

"Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves."

James 1:22

In the second reading today, James tells us that we are the infant children of the Word, like the first figs blossoming on the Word’s tree, and that we are the soil in which the Word is planted. To the ancient Hebrews, the fig tree represented the Tree of Life. When we carry God’s Word to the world by our actions, we are the Tree of Life to those who suffer. All of us are called to be "doers of the word and not hearers only" by caring for the most vulnerable in our midst. Not only are we to do charitable acts but we are also called to seek out sources of injustice and right the wrongs that keep so many burdened unfairly.

The psalmist today gives us examples of actions we can take to become doers--to not lend money at usury, to accept no bribes, to not slander, to do no harm to one’s neighbor, to walk blamelessly, to think the truth in one’s heart, and to do justice.

We have several ministries here at the Cathedral where you can be doers of justice. Become a doer to end environmental injustice by joining the Cathedral Creation Care Network, a Laudato Si Movement community. Support financially the work of the Door (Fund) Ministry as many in our community are threatened with evictions (envelopes can be found in the narthex). Work on building a Habitat for Humanity home to help end the crisis in the lack of affordable housing one house at a time. Join Justice for Immigrants to help our sisters and brothers seeking a better future for their families. Support life and dignity by joining our Beginning and End of Life Ministry. Join in accompanying others in their lives through the St. Monica Ministry and/or Support Circles program. The St. Monica Ministry seeks to better understand and get to know our neighbors in SE Raleigh while Support Circles is a one year walk to help a homeless family emerge from homelessness. Learn more about racism and its economic injustices by joining The Reflecting Pool.

The commitment is yours to make--be a doer and not just a hearer of the word. As the refrain in Psalm 15 states, "The one who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord."

To be a doer with one of our ministries, contact: socialconcern@hnojnc.org 

Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS, Director,

Office of Human Life, Dignity, and Justice Ministries

Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, Raleigh, NC

FAITH BOOK

Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.

From today’s Deuteronomy reading:

Moses said to the people...

"For what great nation is there that has gods so close to it

as the Lord our God, is to us

whenever we call upon God?"

Reflection:

Moses is reminding the Israelites that they had received gifts from God – freedom from slavery, daily nourishment and protection along their escape route. God did these wonderful deeds because of God’s love for the Israelites, not because they deserved it, but because God wanted to do good things for them – as God wants to do for us.

So, we ask ourselves:

  • Can I remember a time when I was in a personal desert and experienced God’s strong and loving presence?
  • For whom can I be that strong and loving presence now?

POSTCARDS TO DEATH ROW INMATES

"Love all my friends and all the friendships that I have made. They are like the sky. It is all part of life, like a big full plate of food for the soul. I hope I left everyone a plate of food full of happy memories, happiness and no sadness."

—Last words of Quintin Jones before he was executed on May 19, 2001 at Huntsville Prison, Texas. Media witnesses were not admitted to his execution.


This is a particularly vulnerable time for state and federal prisoners. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of the inmates listed below to let them know we have not forgotten them. If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.

Please write to:

  • Eddie Robinson #0347839 (On death row since 5/19/1992)
  • Carl Mosely #0294214 (10/1/1992)
  • Nathan Bowie #0039561 (2/5/1993)

----Central Prison, 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-4285

For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network: http://catholicsmobilizing.org/resources/cacp/

On this page you can sign "The National Catholic Pledge to End the Death Penalty." Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the Death Penalty: http://www.pfadp.org/

DONATIONS

"First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to Fr. John Boll, OP at jboll@opsouth.org.

If you would like to support this ministry, please send tax deductible contributions to Fr. Jude Siciliano, OP.

St. Albert Priory

3150 Vince Hagan Drive

Irving, Texas 75062-4736

Make checks payable to: Dominican Friars.

Or, go to our webpage to make an online donation:
https://www.PreacherExchange.com/donations.htm

ANNOUNCEMENTS

1. We have compiled Four CDS for sale:

  • Individual CDs for each Liturgical Year, A, B or C
  • One combined CD for "Liturgical Years A, B and C."

If you are a preacher, lead a Lectionary-based scripture group, or are a member of a liturgical team, these CDs will be helpful in your preparation process. Individual worshipers report they also use these reflections as they prepare for Sunday liturgy.

You can order the CDs by going to our webpage: www.PreacherExchange.com and clicking on the "First Impressions" CD link on the left.

2. "Homilías Dominicales" —These Spanish reflections on the Sunday and daily scriptures are written by Dominican sisters and friars. If you or a friend would like to receive these reflections drop a note to Fr. John Boll, OP, at Jboll@opsouth.org.

3. Our webpage: www.PreacherExchange.org - Where you will find "Preachers’ Exchange," which includes "First Impressions" and "Homilías Dominicales," as well as articles, book reviews, daily homilies and other material pertinent to preaching.

4. "First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to Fr. John Boll, OP at the above email address.


Thank you and blessings on your preaching,

fr. Jude Siciliano, OP

Jude Siciliano, OP - Click to send email.

St. Albert the Great Priory of Texas

3150 Vince Hagan Drive

Irving, Texas 75062-4736

frjude@judeop.org

972-438-1626


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