Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time 'B'

Sunday August 30, 2009

We are traditional but not traditionalists.

The story is told of a recent bride who was baking her first ham with all the trimmings. She had watched her mother on many occasions prepare the same dinner meticulously. At a certain point, her mom would cut the narrow end of the ham before placing it into the baking pan. It wasn’t a large piece — only about two or three inches. Assuming that this maneuver was part of the recipe and affected the taste she asked her mom why she cut the end of the ham to which her mom replied, “Because your grandmother used to prepare it this way as did her mother, your great grandmother before her.”

Over the years it had become a ritual just prior to placing it into the deep oven pan.

However, on this particular occasion her great grandmother was among the invited guests. She asked her why she cut the end of the ham off just before placing it in to the baking pan. Her great grandmother replied, “Because the pan was too small and the ham wouldn’t fit into it.”

Little did she realize that her ‘shortcut’ would become such a long standing tradition that would pass from generation to generation having no effect whatsoever on the taste.

A portion of the preparation process that I use in working with couples engaged to be married is dedicated to what are called ‘family of origin issues.’ An increasing number of engaged couples come from mixed religious backgrounds. However, the cultural and ethnic diversity of families in these times can have an impact on religious practices even within the same religious tradition.

Nevertheless, there are some basic rules that go to the heart of love and marriage and of life itself. Some refer to these as ‘core values’ or unbreakable, universal rules that bind all people no matter what their culture or religious background. Saint Thomas Aquinas among other scholastic theologians believed and taught that these rules originate in nature and in creation and that they are written on the human heart.

It was for this reason that Pope John XXIII of increasingly fading memory convened the Second Vatican Council in 1962.

The Second Vatican Council was to be different from all the other general church councils because it would deal with practical issues that affect ordinary Catholics every day. However, it was also true that the Council set a new tone for the manner in which the Church engages its members and the world at large in dialogue. Pope Paul VI referred to this as a “new way of thinking.”

Pope John chastised ‘prophets of doom’ many of whom were cardinals and archbishops opposed to change and renewal that Pope John referred to as, “Aggiornamento,” a breath of fresh air or literally, bringing the Church “up to date.”

It was his desire that the Church as a community of faith and a ‘people of God’ reflect the core values of the Gospel and that it shed the trappings that had accumulated over the centuries virtually obscuring the simplicity of the teachings of Jesus. The council was to confront a different kind of Phariseism that over time had crept into church thinking and practice resulting in the attempts of powerful ‘men’ to control divine providence and the flow of divine grace through the multiplication of rules and regulations of human origin.

Despite the attempts of prophetic preachers and teachers to keep revelation and religion pure, a new pharisaical hypocrisy and incestuous clericalism emerged resulting in a spiritual imperialism religious totalitarianism: “Do as I say, not as I do!”—“Pay, pray and obey!” The scandalous cover-up of sexual abuse by trusted clergy was one of the tragic results of this inbred clerical culture; a culture that endures and its consequences remain.

It was in this kind of religious environment that Jesus challenged the Scribes and Pharisees in today’s gospel story. To be sure, the Scribes and Pharisees were not all bad people. In fact, it is quite possible that Jesus himself was reared under the influence of the Pharisees. They were learned in the law. They were deeply committed to ‘Torah’ and the traditions that had been passed down to them. Their weakness or failure was rooted in their lack of humility and their unwillingness to honor the voice of God in the people. In essence they had become spiritual ‘control freaks,’ reducing the Commandments to absurd codes and legal eccentricities with virtually no connection to virtue.

Jesus took this opportunity to challenge them for their duplicity and hypocrisy — teaching one thing and living another, emphasizing the speck in the eye of their neighbor and missing the plank in their own eyes.

True religion does not oppress! True religion liberates the human spirit to do good with God for all humanity. Remember, we are partners with, not slaves of God. The core of truth is in the heart of God and the role of the theologian, jurist, and pastor is to acknowledge that truth and translate it into human intelligible teachings that enable everyone to live in the rhythm of God’s life. We do not leave our common sense or intelligence at the door of the church. It is the role of the shepherd to mentor in such a manner that the mentor also learns from the mentored.

When I began studies in Church law in during the Second Vatican Council in 1963, there were over 2400 canons or statutes in the Code of Canon Law. That number was reduced to 1752 with the reforms of 1983. We’re making progress but we still have a long way to go! Oh, I’m not challenging the need for law and church discipline or even the need for sanctions to enforce laws established to protect core values and beliefs and promote justice within the community of the faithful. But laws can be manipulated not only by those who hold themselves above the law but also by those who hold the favor of law for example, Church officials, even bishops and pastors.

There are times when after study and consultation with the faithful, in order to preserve the rule of faith and the purity of tradition, laws must be changed. Human traditions must defer to charity for the good of souls. ” Cura animarum, suprema lex”—care of souls is the highest law—the guiding principle of Church law and discipline.

Some Church laws such as mandatory celibacy in the Latin Rite Church and other ‘disciplinary’ laws though rooted in a time-limited understanding of the gospel and centuries old tradition are nevertheless human and institutional and therefore can be changed for the common good without denying the beauty of freely chose celibacy and the core values of the dominion of God.

The rigid processes and procedures governing marriage and the dissolution of an intolerable marriage although also rooted in the Church’s traditional teaching on the permanence and indissolubility of marriage can be refined without denying the Church’s teaching on the permanence of marriage. There are other issues that pertain to human rights and the common good of the faithful that must be addressed such as the role of women in the Church and the recognition of their call to priestly ministry.

But these Scriptures, especially the Letter of St. James, also challenge us as a nation in the midst of a global financial crisis impinging on the health and wellbeing of millions to consider more carefully, the wellbeing of the forty-six million citizens without healthcare coverage. In the words of Bishop Gumbleton: “Do we not have to wonder how people who have what they need can be so angry that we’re trying to consider the needs of others? It seems like there’s some kind of terrible fear that suddenly I’m going to lose everything I have.”

The life expectancy at 60 in the United States is below that of twenty-two other industrialized nations. Should we not look at the case and cause and then the cost that than the cost and then the case and cause? That’s what data base planning is all about.

The scriptures challenge us this weekend not only to a new mindset but also to a new ‘heart-set.’

The size of the oven pan is not the sole determinate of the size of the ham or the quality of its taste. Common sense and a keen sensitivity to the heart of Christ are the greatest guarantees of divine guidance and providence in the midst of a sea of needed changes within our church and within our nation.

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