The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

The thoughts expressed here are my personal thoughts and sometimes reflect my political views. As a private citizen I have every right to express these views.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Homily: Wednesday, 5th Week of Ordinary Time

Readings: 1 Kgs 10:1-10; Ps 37; Mk 7:14-23

Mark 7
14 And he called the people to him again, and said to them, "Hear me, all of you, and understand: 15 there is nothing outside a man which by going into him can defile him; but the things which come out of a man are what defile him." 17 And when he had entered the house, and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18 And he said to them, "Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a man from outside cannot defile him, 19 since it enters, not his heart but his stomach, and so passes on?" (Thus he declared all foods clean.) 20 And he said, "What comes out of a man is what defiles a man. 21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man."
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Today’s scripture passages speak of wisdom. In the reading from 1st Kings, the Queen of Sheba visits Solomon to test his great wisdom. Afterwards she tells him, "Your wisdom and prosperity surpass the report I heard." Obviously, she was impressed. She also praises the Lord God who gave Solomon his wisdom and his position as king. We encounter this theme again in today’s psalm: "The mouth of the just man tells of wisdom, the law of his God is in his heart." And finally in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus tries to impart some wisdom to the disciples in relation to dietary rules and what’s in the heart: what is truly clean and what is truly unclean.

Like the queen of Sheba, we are all seekers, seekers of knowledge and wisdom. And one thing I’ve learned late in life is that wisdom is a gift. God sends people and circumstances into our lives to give us the opportunity to gain wisdom. Although we gain knowledge through study, knowledge and wisdom aren’t the same thing. At best, knowledge is just an aid in our quest for wisdom.

Something else I’ve learned is that wisdom doesn’t always come from the old and experienced. I remember a second grade teacher in a parish school telling me about one of her young students. They were studying Christ’s teachings on forgiveness, and as an exercise, she asked each child to relate an incident where they’d a hard time forgiving someone. One child told of a fight with an older brother, and another of unkind words from a friend. A third child told of the theft of a dollar bill from his backpack. Then one little girl told about how her father had deserted the family.

The teacher told me she just stared at the little girl blankly, her heart breaking for her. She didn’t know what to say. But then one little boy piped up and said, "You have to forgive him, you know. Jesus says so." Tell me we can’t learn from children, especially in the arena of forgiveness.

Diane and I were foster parents for a number of years. We took in emergency cases, children who had to be removed immediately from their families, so you can imagine some of the situations they had been caught up in. We had four children of our own, and sometimes we’d have another two or three living in our big, old, rambling Cape Cod house. The kitchen table was big enough for ten, so mealtime was always an adventure.

But, you know, even though those children had probably never been treated as well, and no matter how bad their family environment had been, they wanted to be with their parents. They wanted to go home to mom and dad. You see, they were quick to forgive because they were determined to love. And when we’re dealing with sinners, love always involves forgiveness.

The world sees forgiveness as weakness, but for the Christian forgiveness is simply a symptom of love. It's not that we should forgive; we must forgive. Forgiveness is also the fruit of true wisdom, with Jesus as its source. And so in our Gospel passage from Mark, Jesus offers us a small slice of that wisdom.

So many of us worry about and focus on external things, on the things around us. We spend our lives complaining about others, about how we are treated, about the evils that we see all around us. And we blame our misfortunes on them. But Jesus tells us these external things are powerless. Look inward, He says, for it is the evil within us that is the source of sinfulness. It’s what’s in the human heart that counts, but only God can see clearly into the heart, the place where both evil and goodness are found.

It’s this revelation by Jesus that goes against all of today’s errant theories of human behavior, theories that blame the evil men do on their environment or on their genetic makeup. Jesus says, “No!” We all have an intellect and a will, and are responsible for all that we do.

And so today let’s pray for the wisdom that only God can give us, and that we’ll allow ourselves to accept it even when it comes from the most unlikely source. Like the prayer in the old hymn: Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, that we fail not man, nor Thee.

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