Sunday Sermon for August 30, 2015, the Twenty Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Readings: Dt 4:1-2, 6-8; Jas 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27; Mk 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
In the first reading today Moses tells the people of Israel that they are to observe all of the commandments of the Lord, neither adding to them nor subtracting from them. He goes on to say that in this way they will show to the nations that they are a truly wise and intelligent people. Beyond that, the nations will wonder at them because God is so close to them.

We know that the Israelites did not obey either God or Moses in this matter. They showed themselves to be worldly rather than spiritual and, choosing worldly wisdom over Divine Wisdom, they demonstrated themselves to be fools by pushing God out of their midst.

As we have seen before, besides Israel, there is only one other nation in the history of the world that was dedicated to God from its inception: the United States of America. In this way, if the United States would follow the laws of God, it would not only be blessed, but it would demonstrate its wisdom and intelligence to the nations. For many years this is what this great country did, but it has since followed the path of ancient Israel.

St. James told us in the second reading that we are not to be hearers of the Word only, but doers of the Word. Jesus is that Word that has been planted in our hearts and can save us, but as a country, America (and so many others) has decided that He is inconvenient to us. For many years we have given lip service to the Lord while our hearts have been far from Him, but now even that pretense has been removed.

I could go through each of the Ten Commandments and demonstrate how the violation of each has become normative in our society. I will not do this because you already know this to be the case. However, it provides substantial evidence that our country is on the wrong path. Rather than being blessed by God because we are living by His principles, we are watching the rapid decline of our nation and our world because we have not just subtracted from what God has commanded, we have completely negated what He has commanded.

In the Gospel today our Lord reminds us that it is not what goes in to a person from the outside that defiles him, but what comes out from within the heart of that person. He gives us a list of some of the things that cause defilement: evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly.

It is certainly true to say that on the individual level these are all actions which we have to choose to perform; they come from within. But what about when these become the norm for a society? It is true that each action has to be an individual choice, but when these are so typical that they can almost define a society, there is something far deeper and more evil than a personal choice flowing from the corrupted heart of a sinful man.

In so many ways our modern society is very similar to the culture in which the early Christians found themselves. They had to reject the norms of society and choose to live according to the ways of the Lord. They had to reject the things that would defile them and strive to live holy and moral lives.

This is sometimes difficult for us to do because we want to fit in; we want to be like everyone else. It is a great gift, in a way, that things have gotten so bad, because for too many years we have tried to find a compromise between God and the world. As always, the only result of this is that the truth was compromised. This is how we have come to the point in which now find ourselves.

With this in mind, it is time that we all make a choice to get back to what we read in the Scriptures today: we have to quit disregarding the Word of God in favor of mere human traditions and we have to humbly welcome the Word that has been planted in us and is able to save our souls. No more compromising with the world. Remember, worldly wisdom is foolishness in the eyes of God.

If we are going to be true to our Christian dignity, then we have to live according to the Wisdom of God. That Wisdom is Jesus Christ. He is also the Word and the Truth. To compromise the truth is to compromise Jesus. Welcome the Word and live the truth; you will show to the world true wisdom and intelligence and God will be close to you.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit