The “Heart” of Rituals

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Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time


Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Now when the Pharisees with some scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they observed that some of his disciples ate their meals with unclean, that is, unwashed, hands.—For the Pharisees and, in fact, all Jews, do not eat without carefully washing their hands, keeping the tradition of the elders. And on coming from the marketplace they do not eat without purifying themselves. And there are many other things that they have traditionally observed, the purification of cups and jugs and kettles and beds.—So the Pharisees and scribes questioned him, “Why do your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders but instead eat a meal with unclean hands?” He responded, “Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written: This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts. You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.” He summoned the crowd again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that enters one from 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, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile.”


Opening Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, I need your grace to renew and sustain me. Thank you for all the graces you have already given me—life, baptism, faith, and more. I trust that your grace will always be sufficient. Open my mind and heart to hear your words and to respond as you would have me do.


Encountering Christ:


  1. Rituals Are Good: A ritual is a repeated outward action for a particular occasion. It can be as simple as preparing your tea in a certain way each time, or the ritual can be religious in nature. The sacraments, outward signs of invisible realities, use rituals. The word is almost synonymous with the liturgy. Since man is body and spirit, there will always be external expressions for spiritual realities. Therefore, rituals are not bad in themselves. However, it is a problem when people empty a religious ritual of its deeper meaning by merely going through the motions. It is another problem when people put more value in lesser rituals than in the greater demands of justice and charity. Our Lord criticizes the latter problem in the Pharisees. Handwashing is fine, and hygienic, but their hypercritical attitude towards the apostles reveals their hardened hearts.
  2. A Question of the Heart: The heart is at the core of the person, where one’s intellect, will, temperament, and emotions converge. It is in the heart where we make moral decisions, and decide to love or to hate. “From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed,” etc. However, also from the heart comes generosity, self-sacrifice, empathy, and mercy. Morality is important because our actions do not simply come from the heart, but they also form the heart. Every evil action makes the heart more selfish, closed in on itself. Every good action opens the heart to God and neighbor. Our Lord wants his followers to grasp this essential truth.
  3. Forming Our Heart: “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26). This prophecy was fulfilled through the salvific work of Our Lord. Man could not be holy on his own, so God had to change his heart. This gift is given to us primarily through baptism. Our whole being is renewed by the reception of the Holy Spirit and in our configuration to Christ. We have a new spirit and a new heart. However, we must collaborate with this gratuitous gift. We must seek to grow in virtue by repeated good actions. Sustained by grace, our efforts will make our hearts gradually more like Christ’s.


Conversing with Christ: Lord Jesus Christ, I ask for your grace to make my heart ever more like yours. I know that this gift is beyond me, but I also know that it is your command to learn from your heart, which is meek and humble (Matthew 11:29). You have given me the Holy Spirit so that this ongoing transformation is possible. Thank you for the singular gift of baptism, which has planted the seed of the supernatural life in my soul. I ask for the grace to fulfill the gift of baptism by one day joining you in your heavenly kingdom.


Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will infuse my vocal prayers, like grace at meals, with greater attention.


For Further Reflection: Read “Why Ritual Is Important.”


Written by Fr. John Bullock, LC.

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