In Wednesday’s Gospel reading (Mk 7: 14-23), our Lord states: ” Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile.”
Later on, He tells His disciples: ” Do you not realize that everything that goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters not the heart but the stomach and passes out into the latrine (thus He declared all foods clean). But what comes out of the man, is what defiles him. From within the man, from his heart, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile.”
Our Lord is once again talking about the pettiness and superficiality of so many of the rules and regulations that the scribes and Pharisees were always harping on. He asks us to focus rather on that “beam” in our eyes, the sinful, destructive tendencies that exist within us, and that we try to cover up.
But this passage leads me to ask so many questions. In many of the Psychology courses that I took, the issue of ” nature vs. nurture” would come up, and makes me think of this Gospel. So many disturbing, horrible things can ” enter from the outside ” and damage or ” defile ” a child so that he or she grows up and displays many of these sinful behaviors listed by the Lord. Do we learn these evils, or did they already come within us at birth? How extensive is the power of our “original sin?” Why do some people turn out ” nicer” than others?
No matter what the answers to these questions, our Lord certainly wants people to be cleansed of ” all their evils” . Can we do it by following a set of rules and prescribed behaviors that our Church so lovingly provides? ….. Follow the Commandments, participate in the Eucharist, celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation, fast, avoid the sinful influence of the media for us and our children, control our “dirty language” and “dirty pictures” in our minds, practice tolerance and forgiveness, and so on?
Many, many people, like me, who received Catholic upbringing and instruction when young, failed to follow these rules. Others, by the Grace of God, gave these rules a good try and are still trying. Why? Was it God’s arbitrary choice?
I really cannot answer these questions either. All I know is that after 43 years in the wilderness, after hurting God, myself, and others so many times, my Lord Jesus Christ came my way and struck me with his Love and Mercy. The gift of His Light helped me to see His Light in me, along with the many dark, dirty spots that would cloud my vision of Him.
So I no longer try to analyze what harmful events in my life led me to so much sin, nor how my “inside” got filled with so much darkness (although I try to spot those bad influences when they threaten my grandchildren, and carefully talk about it with their parents!). All I know is that God loves me so much, that I can’t help but try to be”better”, because I love Him. There is this beautiful sentence that I read in the magazine THE WORD AMONG US: ” It’s the relationship, not the formula that matters.”
In his book, FALLING UPWARD, Fr Richard Rohr, talks about the importance of “shadow work” in the spiritual journey. It is a matter of careful ” seeing through ” our self-deception, as well as through all of those inner things that “defile” us: ” You come to expect various forms of halfheartedness, deceit, vanity, or illusions from yourself. But now you see through them, which destroys most of their game and power.” What are you looking at as you see through them? Rohr believes that you are looking into your innermost self at the One who loves you.
” This self cannot die and always lives, and is your True Self.”