Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for the Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

August 29, 2021
Installation of Reverend Pedro Martinez as Pastor
St. Peter the Apostle Parish
Fort Worth, Texas

Deuteronomy  4:1-2, 6-8
Psalm 15:2-3, 3-4, 4-5
James 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Some of the religious leaders of the Jews were frustrated and fearful of the way Jesus’ disciples seemed to ignore the prescribed rules and religious rituals of cleanliness before meals. The Pharisees were well known for carefully observing the rules down to minute details. Their way of reverencing God and cherishing the Law prompted them to make sure that all prescriptions were scrupulously observed. Yet, this same rigorous attention to detail frequently led them into developing rules that permitted exceptions to rules. Thus, at times, the rules became more important than God and the Covenant that God formed with the Jews with Moses. Jesus’ correction of them is direct and abrupt, “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts. You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.” Jesus then commands His audience, which includes us, to listen and learn.

Uncleanliness, or impurity, is not simply a problem of ritual but one that affects both the body and the soul. It is not the outside environment, but rather our inner dispositions and immoral decisions that make us unclean. The list Jesus gives of the evils of the heart point to major impurities: “evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly.” The Gospel uses the word impure/unclean in a different way than we do. For us it has exclusively lustful overtones, but in today’s Gospel thoughts and words and deeds that are impure destroy the community and destroy our trust in each other by treating other human beings as disposable objects for our own selfish purposes. Impure actions stand in the way of the grace of God and the Spirit of Christ to work in us.

Unclean actions do more than disturb the harmony of our lives. They are the dark desires that we all face because of original sin, and usually we try to find ways to ignore them or to deny that they exist. We are very clever in finding ways to deny and to rationalize cruelty, exploitation, arrogance, anger, and lust. We become foolish when we deny that the human heart harbors evil. Jesus doesn’t overemphasize our goodness, but he does promise us mercy and forgiveness.

The first step to purity of heart is to heed the frequent call of the Gospel to not be afraid. The vicious circle of sin and vice is born of fear and alienation from God and from other people. This particular form of fear comes from original sin and is exemplified by the actions, the excuses, and the blame passed back and forth by Adam and Eve in the story of the Garden of Eden. This fear, when not met by prayer and faith, inevitably leads us deeper into sin in some manner because it drives our passions to run away from God instead of running towards Him in accord with the depth of His love for us. It is only after we acknowledge our fear, that soon leads us to ask God to help us to recognize, to acknowledge, and to accept our sins … to recognize the times that we are wicked, proud and self-indulgent, and to make a firm decision not to sin again — always with His grace.

One of the most destructive things we can do is to pretend that we have no sin. That was part of the problem of the Pharisees. Denying our sinfulness prevents the grace and mercy of God from working in us. We need to know our sins, and to recognize how they destroy us and our families and our communities. Only then can we experience the forgiveness of God. And once we are forgiven, we need to generously serve others, all those God has seen fit to send into our lives, not just the people we choose to spend time around. When we let go of our sins and become ministers of God’s love, then He grants us to become pure of heart.

I am here today at Saint Peter’s to install Father Pedro Martinez in his sacred office of pastor. Pray for him as he will pray for you. It is his responsibility to care fully for your souls by teaching you by word and example, by governing you by peace and right order, and by sanctifying you through prayer and the sacraments. It is the pastor’s vocation and ministry to lead you to God’s mercy and forgiveness, not only the mercy and forgiveness that you receive from God but that which you share with each other and with others outside this community.

It is the central prayer of our liturgy today that through Father Pedro’s servant-leadership as your pastor, you might grow in the authentically pure religion of Christ about which Saint James speaks in our second reading today. We pray that you might “humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls. Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves. 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.”

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