The Gospel of this Sunday presents a dispute between Jesus and some Pharisees and scribes. The discussion refers to the “tradition of the elders” (Mark 7:3), which Jesus, citing the Prophet Isaiah, defines as “human precepts.” And [saying] that they should never take the place of the “commandments of God.”
The ancient prescriptions in question included not only the precepts of God revealed to Moses but also a series of details to spell out the specifics of the instructions of the law of Moses.
The interlocutors applied these norms in a very scrupulous manner and presented them as the expression of authentic religiosity. Thus they rebuke Jesus and his disciples for transgressing them, particularly those that referred to the exterior purification of the body.
Jesus’ answer has the force of a prophetic pronouncement: “You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.”
These are words that fill us with admiration for our Teacher: we feel that in Him is truth and that his wisdom liberates us from prejudice.
But, pay attention here. With these words Jesus wants to put us on guard, today, don’t you think? [on guard against] thinking that an exterior observance of the law is sufficient for being a good Christian. Just like back then for the Pharisees, there is also for us the danger of considering that all is well with us or that we’re better than the others because of the simple fact of observing certain rules or customs, even though we don’t love our neighbor, are hard of heart and proud.
The literal observance of precepts is sterile if it doesn’t change the heart and if it is not translated into concrete attitudes: opening oneself to the encounter with God and his word, seeking justice and peace, helping the poor, the weak and the oppressed.
We all know, from our communities, parishes and neighborhoods, the bad brought to the Church and the scandal caused by those people who call themselves very Catholic, who frequently go to church, but then, in their daily lives, don’t take care of their families, speak ill of others, etc.
This is what Jesus condemns because this is a Christian anti-testimony.
Continuing with his exhortation, Jesus focuses the attention on another, deeper aspect and affirms, “Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile.”
In this way, he emphasizes the primacy of the interior of the “heart”: exterior things are not what makes us holy or not holy, but rather the heart that expresses our intentions, our desires and the desire to do everything for love of God.
Exterior expressions are the consequence of what we have decided in the heart, and not the other way around. With exterior expressions, if the heart doesn’t change, we are not true Christians. The border between good and evil does not lie outside of us, but rather within us, in our conscience.
We can ask ourselves: Where is my heart? Jesus said, your treasure is where your heart is. What is my treasure? Is it Jesus and his doctrine? My heart is good or my treasure is another thing? Thus, it is the heart that we must purify and convert. Without a purified heart, we can never have truly clean hands and lips that speak sincere words of love, mercy and forgiveness.
Let us ask the Lord, through the intercession of the Most Holy Virgin, to give us a pure heart, free of all hypocrisy — that’s the adjective that Jesus used with the Pharisees: hypocrites, because they say one thing and do another. Free from all hypocrisy so that in this way we are able to live according to the spirit of the law and reach its goal, which is love.
[Praying of the Angelus]
Yesterday in Harissa, Lebanon, the martyr Syriac Catholic Bishop Flavianus Michael Melki was beatified. In the midst of a tremendous persecution of Christians, he was a tireless defender of the rights of his people, exhorting everyone to remain firm in the faith.
Today as well, dear brothers and sisters, in the Middle East and in other parts of the world, Christians are persecuted. May the beatification of this bishop-martyr bring to them consolation, courage and hope. There are more martyrs now than there were in the first centuries.
But may it be as well a push for legislators and governments so that religious freedom is protected everywhere. I ask the international community to do something to put an end to the violence and abuse.
Lamentably as well, in recent days, numerous immigrants have lost their lives in their terrible journeys. For all of these brothers and sisters, I pray, and I invite you to pray. Particularly, I unite myself spiritually to Cardinal Schönborn — who is here present — and to the whole Church in Austria, in prayer for the 71 victims, including four children, found in a truck on the highway between Budapest and Vienna. We entrust each one of them to the mercy of God and we ask Him to help us to cooperate effectively to stop these crimes that offend the whole human family. Let us pray in silence for immigrants who suffer and for those who have lost their lives.
[A moment of silence]
I greet the pilgrims who come from Italy and from so many parts of the world, in particular the Scouts of Lisbon. Where are you? [They respond with applause and shouts] and the faithful of Zara, Croatia. I greet the faithful of Verona and Bagnolo di Norgarole, the youth of the Diocese of Vicenza and those of Rovato and of the parish of San Galdino in Milan. And the children of Salzano and Arconate.
I wish you all a good Sunday. And please, don’t forget to pray for me. Have a good lunch and arrivederci!