Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)


In this Sunday’s second reading we heard that every worthwhile gift, every human benefit comes from above. We have an intimate relationship with God through his word that has been implanted into us. We are God’s closest friends because his Word is in us. But just having this Word is not enough, St. James says. We have to act on the Word of God.  We have to allow the seed of God’s Word to bear fruit. “How are we to do this?” is the natural question we would all ask. How are we to bear fruit? Being tied to God that is what the word religion means, being tied to God, pure religion is this. Looking after widows and orphans in their distress and keeping oneself unspotted from the world[1].

We are to focus our energies on others, not on ourselves. This was the problem with the scribes and Pharisees in today’s gospel. They focused their energies on themselves as an expression of religion while they ignored the needs of those around them. As a result they became spiritually arrogant, hypocrites. The word hypocrite takes its origin from two Greek works, huper meaning beyond, and crisis meaning criticism.  The scribes and Pharisees thought that they were so good that they were beyond criticism. Their focus was on themselves and their exact fundamental following of the Jewish laws. They did not have love in their hearts for others. They disdained the everyday people as worthless rabble.  Their method of following God could not bear fruit because they were more concerned with themselves than with finding God in others.

It is pretty easy for us to fall into that same hole. We would do that if we forget that conversion is a process, not a static event. The beauty of our Catholic faith is that it is profoundly realistic. It recognizes that we are human beings tempted to make bad as well as good choices and in continual need of having our course to the Lord refined and even restored.  We believe that the Lord established the sacrament of penance, of forgiveness, not because we are so good but because we all have tendencies to be so bad.

A baby has minimal focus on the world around him or her. He or she needs the help of others, particularly parents, in order to survive.  Little children continue this natural tendency to be self centered.  Good parents help their children break out of this by encouraging them to reach out to the needs of others. “Share,” the Good Mom says to her two year old despite the two year old’s conviction that everything he or she sees is “Mine”. This lesson continues and is developed throughout the child’s life so that the truly well educated child is the one who finds happiness is reaching out to the needs of others. This child is well educated because he or she has taken steps outside of themselves into the needs of others.  True religion is this, caring for the needs of orphans and widows and staying uncontaminated from the world.

The symbol of the Christian is the Cross. The cross is both a reminder of the historical gift of the Lord and a call to join the Lord in the unique and only true love that exists, sacrificial love. By reaching out to others, by sacrificing ourselves for others, we take steps out of our own selfishness and leap into the Love of God. We need to recognize that if we were to be wrapped up in a little world of spiritual arrogance we create for ourselves we would miss the wonderful experiences of his presence in others.

All of us have experienced the beauty of God in his creation, the mountains, the sea, the sunsets at the beach. But there is a greater experience of God available to us. This is his presence in others, particularly in those who reach out to us in their need. The more we expose ourselves to this presence, the more we will participate in the sacrificial love of the cross, then the less we will allow our practice of religion to turn into spiritual arrogance.

True religion is this, looking after widows and orphans in their distress and keeping oneself unspotted from the world ■


[1] James 1:27. 

Y entonces uno se queda con la Iglesia, que me ofrece lo único que debe ofrecerme la Iglesia: el conocimiento de que ya estamos salvados –porque esa es la primera misión de la Iglesia, el anunciar la salvación gracias a Jesucristo- y el camino para alcanzar la alegría, pero sin exclusividades de buen pastor, a través de esa maravilla que es la confesión y los sacramentos. La Iglesia, sin partecitas.

laus deo virginique matris