Cleaning the Unclean

Imagine taking the time to wash and wax a car when the engine is missing or rusted out. Sure, the car would look great on the outside, but it still wouldn’t go anywhere. Or imagine painting over an entire house when the wood is infested with termites. Sure, the house would look good from without, but it is still corrupted and decaying.

These problems would obviously require more than cosmetic makeovers as solutions.

Today's Gospel presents us with an encounter between Jesus and the Pharisees. The latter are questioning our Lord about His disciples: “Why do Your disciples not follow the traditions of the elders but instead eat a meal with unclean hands?” The text highlights other ritual purifications observed by the Jews. It states that on coming from the marketplace they would not eat without purifying themselves. They would also purify cups, jugs, kettles and beds.

Apparently these traditions were of great importance to the Pharisees, otherwise they would not have questioned Jesus about them. The implication seems to be that the disciples were doing something wrong in neglecting them.

The disciples were somehow “unclean” themselves as a result. Our Lord points out that these purifications are merely cosmetic or external and say little about a man's real moral character: “Nothing that enters one from the outside can defile that person, but the things that come out from within are what defile. From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed….” Of greater importance, then, would be purifying one's self of these things.

When we gather for Mass, we begin with a penitential rite. During the Confiteor we strike our breasts and acknowledge that we have sinned through our own fault by what we have said and done and failed to do. It is a humbling and perhaps frightening thing to acknowledge our sinfulness. I may consider myself a good person, but the same soul that desires to do good is the same soul that often does what is evil. I am responsible for choosing to sin.

It is true, however, that certain things can have a great influence on our actions. Pornography distorts one's view of the dignity of human beings and leads to sins of sexual impurity. A recent editorial in the Washington Times spoke about a study regarding a connection between music with sexually explicit lyrics and teenagers' sexual behavior. When I was a kid and saw Star Wars for the first time, I remember running around the yard pretending to be my favorite characters. We can be influenced by what we see and hear. We can thus understand the importance and need of interior mortifications, of guarding and governing the senses and the passions.

We can and ought to go to Mass every Sunday, read the Word of God often, and pray the rosary. These things direct our minds and hearts to Christ, Who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. But even these must be accompanied by real acts of self-denial and self-sacrifice. Are we prepared to govern the passions, to take up the Cross and really die to sin?

If not, our worship and devotions can become simple cosmetic makeovers focusing only on externals. We cannot avoid the need for cleansing and purifying one's heart and mind as well.

Fr. Grankauskas is parochial vicar at St. Mary of Sorrows Parish in Fairfax, Virginia.

(This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)

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Rod Bennett is the author of Four Witnesses; The Early Church in Her Own Words widely considered to be a modern classic of Catholic apologetics. His other works include: The Apostasy that Wasn't; The Extraordinary Story of the Unbreakable Early Church and Chesterton's America; A Distributist History of the United States. His articles have appeared in Our Sunday Visitor, Rutherford Magazine, and Catholic Exchange; and he has been a frequent guest on EWTN television and Catholic Answers radio. Rod lives with his wife and two children on the 200-year old family homeplace in the Great Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee.

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