Friday, 31 August 2012

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year B

Deuteronomy 4:1-2.5-8; James 1:17-18.21-22.27; Mark 7:1-8.14-15.21-23

For it is from within, from men's hearts, that evil intentions emerge ...

Like most visitors to Medjugorje I prayed the Rosary before the beautiful bronze reliefs which so easily draw you into meditation as you pause before them.

What caught my eye immediately in the image of the Annunciation was Mary's foot pressing down on the root of the tree. A tree! Mary is standing under a tree! My imagination instantly set to work.

I thought of another woman standing under another tree in another garden. She was not in conversation with an angel but with a serpent. She, too, said yes - and when she did it seemed as though that tree took root in her heart - the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

It took root and grew, sinking its tenacious roots deep into the heart of humankind, and no gardener, no herbicide, no chainsaw would ever be capable of removing this evil from its new home.

Now let's be honest with ourselves and with one another. We all know that there is not a single man, woman or child here in this church, nor in any other church, nor in the whole wide world who is not aware of this horrid tree of iniquity growing within them.

We experience it in our thoughts; we hear it in our words; we acknowledge its presence in our actions. What's more, we all recognise that the violence and turmoil in this poor, divided world is simply the expression of the turmoil and division of individual human hearts. Jesus is so truly right - evil comes from within!

And what can be done about it? What can you or I do about it? Certainly we can beat the branches with the rod of willpower. This seems to be the preferred option. ‘I will never do that again! I promise!’ And we dislodge a few leaves and even, occasionally, break a few branches, but we soon realise that willpower is simply not enough. Our willpower  resembles more a twig than a rod.

No, striking the branches won’t work. We have to get to the roots and this, firstly, with our understanding. We have to acknowledge the reality of our sin, it’s awful power over us and our own helplessness.

Long ago I had a parishioner, a married Catholic man who was committing serious sins, crimes, against children. He hated himself and he tried and tried to overcome his weakness without success. One day he went to confession and the priest strongly advised him to go to the police.

He did, and he told them everything – names, dates - everything. The police were wonderful; I imagine they instinctively sensed they were dealing with a man who was sincerely trying to come to terms with himself. No one had charged him yet but they warned him it was possible and likely. He took counselling and when eventually he was charged by a number of his victims he lost his job, wife, family, friends and went to goal.

Soon after he came out of goal I lost touch with him but I recall his faithfulness to Mass and personal prayer during that time. I can honestly say I had the greatest respect for him. Here was a man who, through the grace of God, had been able to pull out ‘by the roots’ the all too common self-deceptions that sin can be excused, that it’s not really our responsibility, that it’s too strong for us.

The Pharisees deceived themselves by imagining that fastidious obedience to the exterior practices of the law regarding washing of hands and pots and pans, as well as tithing and so on, would make them clean and righteous in God’s eyes. How wrong they were!

For it is from within, from men's hearts, that evil intentions emerge ...

Having acknowledged our sin as offensive to God and our own responsibility we then need to acknowledge that we are not capable of dealing with it on our own – but that God is.

Regular ‘one on one’ confession to a priest – faithfulness to Sunday Mass – daily prayer which is significant and focussed – spending prolonged time in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament – penance – service in the community – and the support of a spiritual director or prayer group are all graces from God which help us ‘starve’ that tree within us ‘from the roots up’. Its final destruction is reserved to God but a sick tree cannot bear fruit: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, malice, deceit, indecency, envy, slander, pride, folly.

Mary’s foot on the roots of the tree indicate for me not only that God has preserved her immaculate, free from all evil, but that she can assist us, her children, to become free too. Do not ignore this great gift of God to our salvation. He came to us through her and invites us to come to him through her.

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