A number of years ago I got a phone call from a woman who just wanted to sound off. She’d stopped going to Sunday Mass because she was sick and tired being surrounded by phonies. She went on and on about these women in their mink coats and their plastic surgeries. Then there were these people who drive up in the expensive cars but put nothing in the collection basket. After this long tirade she finally stopped talking.
I asked her if I could make a suggestion. First of all start coming to Mass. Leave you rosary or your Sunday missal home. Just bring a mirror with you. Instead of looking around and judging why everyone else is at Mass, keep looking in the mirror and ask yourself why you are at Mass because you are the only person you’ll have to answer for.
A Danish philosopher claimed that he liked to compare his encounter with the Sunday Mass readings to looking into a mirror. He said ‘the first requirement is that you must not look at the mirror but you must look in the mirror and see yourself in God’s word.’ Then the next important step in this exercise is to ask yourself, ‘is it I to whom this word is speaking?’
Today’s gospel tells of one of the many conflicts Jesus had with the religious authorities of his day. They kept watching him trying to trip him up on different issues; is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar? He wearied of all their games. This concern about washing hands was an attempt to discredit Jesus’ whole ministry. These people couldn’t be from God and not wash their hands before dinner as our traditions taught. Jesus’ response was a question of his own, ‘what’s the big deal about washing your hands when these same hands have taken what does not belong to them or struck a spouse or child or neighbour?’
It’s a bit like the jingle, ‘Mr. Catholic went to Mass he never missed a Sunday but Mr. Catholic went to hell for what he did on Monday.’ Jesus rightly named the Pharisees for what they were, hypocrites, and phonies. They honored God with their lips but their hearts were far from him.
As it was then so it is now. Correctness, narrowness, intolerance and righteousness are the real enemies of religion rather than any transgression of church teaching. As someone once wrote, “right truth, proper faith and true fidelity to Jesus Christ demand that our hearts are open and wide enough to radiate the universal love and compassion that Jesus showed to all who came into his life.” St. James has it right when he tells us that religion pure and undefiled involves the care of widows and orphans and all those in need. Religion pure and undefiled forbids all those things that set people against each other: prejudice, bigotry, rash and mean judgments of other people’s lives and lifestyles.
As we continue to celebrate this Mass may each of us have the courage to look into a mirror of today’s gospel and see ourselves in God’s word and ask ourselves “Is it I to whom this word is speaking?” If we are bothered, stung by Jesus’ challenge to the Pharisees then our hearts are almost healed and we are on our way to be ‘doers of the word.’