Pastoral Message – August 29, 2021

Pastoral Message – August 29, 2021

Blessings and peace to you. I hope you have been able to have some wonderful summer time with family and friends.

As I read the Gospel passage for this Sunday, especially where Jesus said: “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” Mark 7: 14-15. It reminds me of a Zen story that I heard when I was a child.

A senior monk and a junior monk were traveling together. At one point, they came to a river with a strong current. As the monks were preparing to cross the river, they saw a very young and beautiful woman also attempting to cross. The young woman asked if they could help her cross to the other side. The two monks glanced at one another because they had taken vows never to touch a woman. Then, without a word, the older monk picked up the woman, carried her across the river, placed her gently on the other side, and continued on his journey. The younger monk couldn’t believe what had just happened. After rejoining his companion the older monk, he was speechless. An hour passed without a word spoken between them. Two more hours passed, then three. Finally, the younger monk could not contain himself any longer, and blurted out: As monks, we are not permitted to touch a woman. How could you then carry that woman on your shoulders?” The older monk looked at him and replied, “Brother, I set her down on the other side of the river, why are you still carrying her?”

Through the words in today’s gospel, Jesus helps us realize that if we are not careful, we can commit sin by judging other people, often without even knowing them. We judge only by what we see. Sometimes we don’t even know their names, their stories, and their cultural backgrounds: we just criticize and judge them because they simply look and act different from what we are accustomed to.

These uncharitable and rash judgements come from within us. And because they come from within us, it defiles us in the eyes of God and our neighbor. Often times these unfair judgements come from us carrying around past hurts or holding on to resentments and/or jealousies. These feelings do not foster love and unity, but hatred and divisions. When we allow ourselves to judge others this way, we are not only hurting ourselves, but we are not loving others in a manner worthy of the calling we have received from God.

Whatever is in our hearts makes all the difference in what comes out of us: whether we allow ourselves to be defiled or not. What lies within our hearts is what really allows us to either be free to love and serve God and neighbor, or imprison us in defilement, which leads to contempt and bitterness toward God and others.

Today, Jesus reminds us to avoid such defilement because he knows that it can lead a self-professed religious person to appear hypocritical to others. God dislikes hypocrisy. In fact, whenever we encounter Jesus angry in the sacred Scriptures, it is mostly when he is encountering and calling out some kind of hypocrisy.

The manner in which we observe and practice external religious precepts and laws, should always be expressions of what is in our heart: the love and mercy of God.

I’d like to end with a classic quotation that says: “Ex abundanciacordis, os loquitur.” It means: “From the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” In the Beatitudes, Jesus said: “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.” To have a pure heart, one’s heart and mind must be free of uncharitable judgments towards one’s neighbor, thus avoiding hypocrisy and ultimate defilement.

Lastly, for those times that we might not have practiced what we preached to others, we must remember that the Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in kindness. We can return to Him with humble hearts and ask Him to create in us a clean heart: for the praise and glory of God’s name, for our good, and the good of all His holy church.

Blessings and peace!

Fr. Thanh-Tai,

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