Engaging the Gospel – Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B): Gospel – Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Jesus inveighs against the Pharisees, who were so caught up in their own rules about external purification that they ignored the most important purification of all – the interior cleansing of the heart.

“The organ for seeing God is the heart,” Benedict XVI affirms:

The intellect alone is not enough…The heart – the wholeness of man – must be pure, interiorly open and free, in order for man to be able to see God…Purification of heart occurs as a consequence of following Christ, of becoming one with Him…The pure heart is the loving heart that enters into communion of service and obedience with Jesus Christ.

— Jesus of Nazareth, Vol. 1, pp. 92-95.

The pure of heart are “attuned” to God in three primary ways: “charity; chastity or sexual rectitude; love of truth and orthodoxy of faith” (Catechism paragraph 2518).

Although we have received purifying grace in baptism, we must continue the “battle for purity,” struggling against the weakness of our flesh (2520).

“Purification of the heart demands prayer, the practice of chastity, purity of intention and of vision” (2532).

Purity of heart “enables us to see according to God, to accept others as neighbors; it lets us perceive the human body – ours and our neighbor’s – as a temple of the Holy Spirit” (2519).

Question for reflection: What can I do to strive for purity of heart?

Cultivate Purity of Heart

Summary of Catechism paragraphs 2514-57:

  • With our nature wounded by original sin, we are given to “concupiscence,” an immoderate desire that goes beyond the bounds of reason, and thereby predisposes us to commit sin.
  • If our hearts are dominated by concupiscence, whether toward physical pleasure or material goods, then we cannot open ourselves up to God; this is why we must put a proper check on our worldly desires, so that we are free to allow God to fill us with His desires – the far superior desires of the Spirit.
  • For this reason, God counsels us to keep a strict guard over our desires; the Ninth Commandment, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife,” and the Tenth Commandment, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods,” together identify the roots of sin and prepare us for spiritual growth.
  • Jesus calls us to purity of heart, including chastity, charity toward others, and a love for the truths of the faith; although God gives us grace to help us, we must also cooperate with Him by waging a spiritual battle against our unruly flesh.
  • We must strive for purity of heart by praying consistently for the gift of chastity, disciplining ourselves not to indulge in impure thoughts, and avoiding situations (real or virtual) that tempt us or cause us to fall.
  • Modesty is a prerequisite for purity, for it recognizes and safeguards the dignity of the human person; while this relates primarily to how we dress, modesty also pertains to feelings and emotions; we should avoid all forms of “entertainment” in which people’s lives are exploited or belittled for our amusement.
  • Just as sexual sins originate in the thoughts of the heart, so do sins against the right use of goods; excessive desire for material things gives rise to the sins of greed and avarice, which can lead us to steal, defraud, or otherwise deprive others of their rightful goods.
  • Envy is a sin because it causes us to grieve or regret the good fortune of others; if we want grave harm to befall someone more fortunate, then envy becomes a mortal sin.
  • As an antidote to the allurements of wealth, Jesus calls us to prefer Him to all things, and exercise a radical trust in divine Providence; through this poverty of heart, we learn to rely on God, not on material possessions.
  • When we cultivate purity and poverty of heart, we become more attuned to God and take our joy in Him; thus the Commandments come full circle, for now we are truly loving God above all.

Live Your Faith

Training for sports has much in common with training for the spiritual life. To achieve your goals as an athlete, you have to put in the time, the discipline, the dedication, to master the fundamentals. If you skip practice, slack off, and let things slide, your performance deteriorates.

Similarly, the spiritual life demands that we pay attention to the fundamentals: daily prayer, the sacraments, and striving to live a moral life.

An essential part of our training regimen is a regular examination of conscience. Only by recognizing our weaknesses, and getting to their roots in our flawed desires, can we work with God to improve our performance on the spiritual playing field.

Honor the Gift of Sexuality

Summary of Catechism paragraphs 2331-2400:

  • The Sixth Commandment, “You shall not commit adultery,” reflects the profound meaning of human sexuality; far more than a mere satisfaction of appetites, sexuality is ordered to God’s plan for us – our vocation to love and communion.
  • God created human beings as male and female, emblematic of God’s own attributes in our different, but complementary, ways; inscribed in our very nature, this physical, moral, and spiritual complementarity is designed for the lifelong union of man and woman in marriage.
  • Our sexual identity as male or female is not to be denied, but integrated properly within our entire being; this wholesome integration is what we call “chastity,” which enables us to live our sexuality in a morally healthy way, whether as unmarried people living in continence, or as spouses in fidelity to each other.
  • All Christians are therefore called to chastity; both a grace from God and a moral virtue that we diligently strive for, chastity empowers us for self-mastery, helps to regulate our passions, and safeguards our personal integrity.
  • Chastity lays the groundwork for, and makes possible, the true gift of self that takes place in marriage; having given themselves to each other totally, exclusively, and irrevocably until death, husband and wife become one flesh; in this way their sexual union expresses their all-encompassing marital covenant.
  • God Himself designed this intimate communion of spouses as the means of transmitting new life; through the gift of the marital embrace, spouses participate in God’s own creativity by conceiving children; sexual union is also for the good of the spouses, but that can never be separated from openness to new life.
  • Children are thus gifts from God, the natural fulfillment of the spouses’ union, not optional accessories to one’s lifestyle; spouses can responsibly decide to regulate their fertility, but must do so by moral means (e.g., periodic continence in NFP), not by contraception, which denies the gift of self and fails to work with God.
  • Because sexuality has such an amazing purpose in God’s plan, any sexual activity outside of marriage is sinful; adultery is a grave sin since it violates the marital bond, hurts the betrayed spouse, and can lead to the tragedy of divorce, a rejection of the covenant that is detrimental to both the family and society.
  • Fornication is similarly a lie, for it speaks the physical language of union without there actually being a covenant; prostitution and pornography are destructive of human dignity because they treat others as objects; masturbation and lust are sinful because they are disordered pursuits of sexual pleasure for its own sake.
  • Homosexual activity is wrong because it is inherently incompatible with God’s design for our sexual expression and with the transmission of life; our brothers and sisters with homosexual orientation are to be welcomed and supported to live out the baptismal call to chastity and holiness.

Live Your Faith

Our culture constantly propagandizes us about sex, as if it were just a recreational activity that we engage in whenever and however we please, without consequences.

But there is a deluge of evidence to the contrary: broken hearts, devastated families, an epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases.

The truth is that sex is not a game; it is wrapped up in the mystery of the human person as created by God.

The Church teaches the full truth about sex, and however unpopular and countercultural it may be, only by honoring God’s gift in the way He intended can we find lasting happiness. If we have failed, the Lord is always eager to forgive us in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.