From the Heart
In this beautiful homily for 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, Father Hanly reminds us that the heart is everything. The heart is the beginning, it is the end.
First Reading: Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 15:2-3, 3-4, 4-5
Second Reading: James 1:17-18, 21-22, 27
Gospel: Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
I’ll be honest with you, I don’t have a clue about how this little homily is going to come out. I’ve prepared about two thousand of them, half asleep, half awake. But this is a very tricky homily and one of the reasons is, as you probably noticed, we’ve come back to the Gospel that we just read now — it means that we have come back to Mark, Mark the little boy.
I think the main (at least the way I read it), the main purpose of this is just one idea. And I could just say the one idea, then you can all go to sleep:
The worship of God does not mean worshipping in beautiful places like this and having incense and having rules and regulations and everything about exactly what we should do or shouldn’t do, and how to handle the incense and how to handle the other articles and how to wear the clothes, etc, etc, etc.
Some people think that is incredibly important for the Catholic Church. It isn’t. It isn’t.
What is important?
The heart. The heart is everything. The heart is the beginning, it is the end.
It doesn’t matter what you wear. It doesn’t matter where you come from. It doesn’t matter whether you’re very good at praying or you’re very bad at praying, whether you love God or you hate God or you don’t care about God. All these things do not matter.
What matters is that what you say and do, when you’re in a situation that is involving truth – God’s truth – if you’re speaking the truth, if it doesn’t come from the heart, forget it.
This is very important. It’s very important.
How many arguments do we have over liturgy? How many times do we fight over whether you should have the church this way or that way? Or whether in the 13th Century they did it this way and in the 14th Century they did it that way?
I’m not mocking this. This is the tradition that has come down and it’s a wonderful tradition and it’s an ageless tradition. But sometimes we forget that it is not the prayer book that’s important, it’s the prayer. And if the prayer does not rise from the heart, then the book is just pages meaning very little.
This might sound a little radical, but it isn’t. It’s very old-fashioned.
In Jesus’ day, nobody could read or write — just a very, very few could read and write. The readers of the Scriptures, of course, could read and write, but, in general, what the people really held onto was someone who was proclaiming it to the people. And there were no books in pews, no anything, just one man standing there and telling you a two-thousand-year-old story. And this is the way it came to you: into your ears, into your mouth, and very often it stopped there.
What Mark is saying is that Jesus at the end of this thing is when you address anything from Holy Scripture you must remember that it comes from the eyes reading, from the ears hearing, but if it doesn’t go down to the heart and back up from the heart, it’s a waste of time.
So, the next time you’re home, maybe, and you pick up a booklet like this or something like that, I’m going to suggest a few things: you don’t just read it with your eyes and then close it, you have to read it with your heart, with your whole being. You have to read it from the bottom of your feeling. And when you read it that way, then the words take on the meaning they had in the time of Jesus.
That should be enough for that. I’ll give you a little example.
This is an argument. Mark is using this argument about liturgy and about customs.
The Jewish people, even today, have very strict customs that go back over a thousand years about how to wash and how to be clean.
And cleaning and washing was not just getting your hands cleaned and washed, and preventing any kind of disease or something that might come from not washing your hands, etc, etc.
What it really meant was the cleanliness of God. God is the only one that is totally and completely clean in the Biblical sense. Clean means uncomplicated. Clean means spring. Clean means from the depths of the heart into the ears of the people.
So when you approach, say on a Sunday, one of the things is that if you are going to approach this Mass, the best way to do it would be to take all the books out — no more books.
We don’t do that for two very good reasons.
Number one: in a bilingual or trilingual culture, you almost have to have a little help and so we have these books, you see. But, initially, and down through the ages until really the fourteen hundreds, nobody could read or write. Basically, they could read and write certain things, but they were not literate until the inventors finally found the machinery that turned out printed books.
But here I’m going to read what Jesus says to the people, as it maybe could be read, and then you will understand the problem that we have in understanding, sometimes, Jesus.
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.”
Very powerful. But that’s the way the original readings were done and perhaps they will be now that we have some changes.
And I’d like to say a word or two about the changes.
As you know, we have been given one full year from the rest of the world to get the English translations and that together with the minor changes. Now there’s a certain amount of controversy over it. Nobody likes change, but it’s going to happen.
Ours will begin with Advent, the coming Advent, and we will begin to use the materials, the books that were written for the English language for the world, basically. And every Diocese will be using perhaps the same kind of English that …
Today, it depends where you go in the Catholic world to find out, not only what kind of English they’re using, but the different translations from many booklets.
The thing that we would like to do very much, though, is to be able to have this one very fine Roman Missal. Now we are the Roman part of the Catholic Church, so we have the Roman Missal.
And there will be small changes here and there.
But don’t be afraid, you’ll get over it in no time. You’ll have the books. You’ll have the little pamphlets. And I would say, within maybe a couple of months, you’ll have the whole of the Liturgy down.
A lot of it is a repetition. A lot of it is going back to you old people, like me, who remember some of the translations that were done in the past, have been redone and brought up to this present current issue of the new Roman Missal.
But don’t be afraid of it.
But here’s what I hope would happen: you would not think of arguing about words, whether this word is better than that word, or whether this sentence is better than that sentence, or whether this reading was better than that reading.
Because the only way you’re going to really get it and understand it is the way I just read it out now. And then, if after reading it and reading it and reading it, then your heart, your mind, your feeling will have to grab hold of it.
Now this is a great challenge, but it’s very good. We do really not read as we should read as a community. We have to improve: the readers have to be better, the priests have to be better, the responses have to be better.
It’s very simple, but if we do it together and we work on it together, then, I hope, by the end of six months or a year, we will have a lovely – I promise you this – a lovely Liturgy, a Liturgy that will come not from the mouth, but will come from the heart.
So be patient. When you see the changes in the big book and the little book and all that, everybody feels, “Why do we have to do this? Why do we have to do that?”
But if we do it now, and the way that it has been translated and used and looked over for centuries and being brought up to now, you’ll find it’s a very, very, very good book to start from.
So I would say this: be patient. But I’m asking you all to go home when we get the books out, I’m asking you, when you go home, I want you to read it like a reader would read it.
I know you’ll feel funny in church, (inaudible) some are shy, some are not shy. But what I would like you to do is, from the very beginning, and we start very soon with the new booklet, that you would all feel that you are going to read it like I just read this small passage, because the life of the book is not on the pages.
Remember that now, the life of what we believe in, hope in and love, is not on the pages. The life of what’s on the pages has to be reproduced in the heart. And the only way we can do it is together, sort of – I’ll be rash – you have to fall in love with the words before they touch anybody’s heart.
I know everybody’s feeling I can’t do that, I can’t do this. But we’re going to try it.
And we’re going to try to read and bring to new life this wonderful opportunity that we have, where two thousand years of Scripture, four thousand years of Scripture, will come alive each Sunday.
And we will begin to realise the wonderful, wonderful religion the Roman Missal has offered us, and that we will be one heart, one word and one together in a new but ancient understanding of “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son,” that all those words could be written and that we could be saved and given new life in our community.