“Pure unspoilt religion is this, to come to the help of orphans and widows and keep oneself uncontaminated by the world”. Our readings this week focus on true and false faith. Christ criticises those who honor God with their lips but whose hearts are far from Him. Lets confess any hypocrisy in our lives.
Today’s scripture is about religious hypocrisy. One can profess the faith, attend mass each Sunday, and yet be unconverted at heart. Christ attacks the Pharisees as such. They kept the letter of God’s law and yet were corrupt in heart and action. As Christ says, “they honour me with their lips but their hearts are far from me”. He despised outward law, his concern was purity of heart issuing in just living. He wanted us to put the horse of spirituality before the cart of ethics. For him the soul is first true to God within, good living follows. So his approach to morality was wholly positive. No “thou shall nots”. His 10 commandments, the beatitudes, say act from merciful, charitable, peaceful, pure hearts and you’ll be ever blessed children of God. St.James says the same; pure unspoilt religion is coming to the help of orphans and widows and being uncontaminated by the world.
A film I saw recently shows such an uncontaminated soul in action, Fr. O’Flaherty, the famous World War 11 priest. From the Vatican, during the Nazi occupation of Rome, he helped 1000s of Jews and prisoners-of-war escape to freedom. At one stage the Pope called him aside and said: “Be careful, the Germans can destroy the church in occupied lands, invade the Vatican, don’t provoke them”. “Ah” says the O’Flaherty, “I’m just a simple man, I know nothing of politics. When I see people in need my heart just tells me to help them”. He helped those oppressed by Hitler because his heart was uncontaminated by the world. Later, after Rome’s liberation, the Pope admits: “its because of people like you that the church has credibility in every age”.
The Pope’s right. What makes us Christian is acting from faith-filled, compassionate hearts, regardless. Christ is our model. His pure innocent heart reached out to heal and save all, from prostitutes to kings. The world crucified him but he triumphed in defeat. Christ asks us to live a similar faithful innocent life. Because were imperfect, however, its a struggle. The key is to keep up the effort despite our frequent falls. Were to fight all life long to free our hearts from the vices that contaminate the soul. Christ lists such: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, malice, deceit, indecency, envy, slander, undue pride.
When the Nazi commander confronts O’Flaherty in the film, he speaks from such a toxic soul, voicing the hard immoral secular thinking that still rules our world. He shouts: “there’s no God, right or wrong, only service of one’s desire and power”. Satan and the world always tempts us to abandon innocence in this way. Believers shouldn’t be fooled but pray with scripture: “lord take away our hearts of stone and give us hearts of flesh”. For worldly values fade to dust at last leaving us empty inside but Christ is lord of love, goodness, faith, peace, beauty, truth and happiness both for this world and forever and ever, amen. So as God’s people, acting from a pure heart in Christ not outward show to please others, to serve expediency, or conform to cruel worldly interests, lets profess our faith in the innocent Christ.
Prayers of the faithful
And as God holy people practising faith in spirit and truth lets pray to our Father with confidence for the things that we need..
For our Holy Father the Pope and all church leaders, that they may preach and live the Christian Gospel from pure faith-filled uncontaminated hearts and inspire others accordingly….
For civil leaders that they may avoid worldly corruption and self interest and serve the people with integrity and justice, helping especially the poor and underpriveleged in our society.
For ourselves, that we may live and bear witness to the faith in the midst of the world and its contrary values, so as to be lights of faith, goodness and love to children in particular.
For our wonderful young people, that they may not go the way of the corrupt world to soul death, but bear witness to Christ by faith-filled pure hearts within his holy church.
For the aged, the sick the lonely and the oppressed in our world, that through our heartfelt care and charitable action they may encounter the real loving and healing presence of Christ…
For the dead who passed from this world to the next and await a heavenly reaward for their active faithfulness to Christ and all that’s good; we pray especially for those who died recently..
We ask all this through Christ our Lord who in love and concern for our welfare constantly interecedes for us before the Father.
Abuse scandals in the church is a warning of the curse of religious hyporcisy. Some of us priests were corrupt like the Pharisees, preaching one thing and doing the opposite. Its hard to imagine ordained ministers being so hard of heart as to abuse vulnerable children but thats what happened, and even worse was the cover-up. Saving the church’s skin seemed more important than doing what Christ said. One of my favourite writers in scripture is St.James because, as in our reading today, he pulls no punches about religious hypocrisy. We, I mean us priest, needed the dose of humility the recent painful revelations brought. Lets pray to Mary that it will produce a better more accountable truly Christian church uncontaminated by harsh clericalism..Hail Mary