Sunday Sermon for September 2, 2012, 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 second reading today St. James tells us that we are to be doers of the word and not hearers only. When we think about how many times we have heard the readings at Mass, how many times we have read God’s Word from the Scriptures and how many ways we have been reminded of what our Lord spoke, we have to admit that we have had ample opportunity for hearing the Word of God. So, the question is whether or not we put into practice what we have heard.

Moses told the people of old, as we read in the first reading, that if they followed the precepts God had given that it would give evidence to their intelligence and make people wonder what other nation there might be that has gods so close to it as the Lord is to us. Moreover, the nations will see the justice of the statutes and decrees given to Israel by the way those laws are lived out practically in people’s lives.

We have to admit, as the Prophets of old did readily, that Israel did not follow the laws of God very well. From that I suppose we could say that they demonstrated that they were not very intelligent and that they were unjust (because the law of God is just). Today the situation has become worse because so many people seem convinced that if they live according to the Word of God that they will be thought to be stupid. It is true that some people will think you stupid if you strive to conform yourself to the will of God, but such a judgment says more about those people than it does about you.

If we are indoctrinated by the ways and ideas of the world, holiness and the ways of God seem foolish. But the Saints, who are deeply schooled in the ways of God, tell us that the worldly ways are in fact empty and foolish. It is amazing that when we read about the Saints we can see the wisdom of doing things God’s way and we cheer them on, but when it comes to ourselves we often fall prey to the temptation to think our ways or the ways of the world are better than God’s ways.

When we do these things we become like those in the Gospel today whom Jesus chastises because they honor Him with their lips but their hearts are far from Him. Even worse, He says that their worship is in vain because they teach human precepts to be divine doctrine. This is indicative of the Church in many areas today. We pick and choose what we want from Scripture or the teachings of the Church. I remember when I was in the seminary how almost everything that came out of Rome was ignored, but if the Holy Father said something that would appear to uphold one of the liberal ideas being presented, we heard all about it as if it were some kind of dogmatic statement by the Church.

The same thing, I must admit, occurs on the right. The idea of “Cafeteria Catholicism” cuts both ways. We cannot pick and choose what we like or dislike about God’s revelation. We are to conform ourselves completely to Him in everything, not just in the areas I personally like better. God’s Word challenges us all. There are some things in our Lord’s teaching that are easy for one person while those same things are very difficult for another. At the same time, there are other points of our Lord’s teaching that are simple for the second person in the example while they are a great challenge to the first.

As it is with everything in our lives, God is going to ask us to continue to do what we do well while striving to improve in the areas we do not do well. This is hard because of the ideological divide within the Church today. Something may be presented as “liberal” or as “conservative” and therefore, if I place myself into one of these categories I tend to reject everything that falls under the opposite heading.

I recall Pope Benedict saying that prior to the fallout after Vatican II, you never heard about liberal or conservative in the Church; everyone, he said, was Catholic. Perhaps we need to reject the monikers that cause division from within and get back to what is truly important. Our Lord told us in the Gospel today that it is what comes from within that causes a man to be defiled. Conforming ourselves to God and uniting our will to His is of the greatest importance. Hear the Word of God, pray about what you have heard, and then put it into practice.

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