AmericanCatholic.org
 
Skip Navigation Links
Home
Catholic News
Seasonal
Saints
Special Reports
Movies
Social Media
Shopping
Donate
Share:
Facebook
Twitter
Google Plus
LinkedIn
Email
RSS Feeds

advertisement
Bible Reflections View Comments

Rules, Rituals, and Relationships
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, September 02, 2012
Click here to email! Email | Click here to print! Print | Size: A A |  
 
A friend who grew up in an extended farm family tells the story of a Sunday morning when his uncle and cousins were leaving for church and their neighbor had an emergency involving a broken fence and escaping cows. His uncle’s response was, “We can’t help you right now. We have to go to Mass.” Their fear of committing a mortal sin by missing Mass that day led them to ignore the needs of their neighbor, who lost thirteen cows that day.

 Any society, religious or secular, needs rules to survive and to thrive. But when the rules become ends in themselves, more important than the people involved, they can do more harm than good. Religious rules and rituals can easily cross a line to something akin to magical gestures. Something deep-seated in the human psyche seems to hearken back to primitive beliefs that a god could be controlled by an exact series of words and gestures.

The early Hebrews were surrounded by cultures who relied on ritual to placate distant gods. The covenant with the one God was a far different thing, an intimate relationship between God and the people of Israel. Moses’s exhortation to the people to follow the Lord’s commands is clearly rooted in this covenant relationship. The commandments flow out of and nurture that relationship. If we are in right relationship with God, we will also be in right relationship with one another.

By the time of Jesus, Moses’s command to carefully observe the commandment had been distorted into restrictive rules and rubrics. This in spite of Moses telling them not to add to the commandments he was giving them. Rabbis over the centuries referred to this as “putting a fence around the Torah.” By observing a growing number of rituals in order to avoid small sins, the people were less likely to commit any major sin against the commandments.

The intention here is certainly a worthy one. We see something of it in Jesus’ own teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, when, for example, he counsels against anger as a way of avoiding murder. But too often the minor rules had more to do with merely external gestures than with a change of heart.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus reminds his listeners that a clean heart is more important than clean hands. And he reminds them that Isaiah and the other prophets warned against claiming divine authority for merely human rules and precepts. Keeping a strict set of rules can be far easier than dealing with the messiness inevitable in human life and relationships. We don’t have to think, we don’t have to make decisions, we don’t have to take any personal responsibility for consequences. We rely on someone else telling us, “Do this. Don’t do that.”

Our Catholic culture has certainly gone through periods of strict rulekeeping through the centuries. But when those rules allow us to hold ourselves apart from the suffering of another person, we have to ask ourselves if this is what Jesus intended. At the heart of the Gospel message is the command to love God and neighbor. No rule or ritual is more important than that. We need to keep this in mind when faced with difficult decisions in our own lives.


More Bible Reflections
Subscribe to Bringing Home the Word
Subscribe to Homily Helps
blog comments powered by Disqus

Fidelis of Sigmaringen: If a poor man needed some clothing, Fidelis would often give the man the clothes right off his back. Complete generosity to others characterized this saint's life. 
<p>Born in 1577, Mark Rey (Fidelis was his religious name) became a lawyer who constantly upheld the causes of the poor and oppressed people. Nicknamed "the poor man's lawyer," Fidelis soon grew disgusted with the corruption and injustice he saw among his colleagues. He left his law career to become a priest, joining his brother George as a member of the Capuchin Order. His wealth was divided between needy seminarians and the poor. </p><p>As a follower of Francis, Fidelis continued his devotion to the weak and needy. During a severe epidemic in a city where he was guardian of a friary, Fidelis cared for and cured many sick soldiers. </p><p>He was appointed head of a group of Capuchins sent to preach against the Calvinists and Zwinglians in Switzerland. Almost certain violence threatened. Those who observed the mission felt that success was more attributable to the prayer of Fidelis during the night than to his sermons and instructions. </p><p>He was accused of opposing the peasants' national aspirations for independence from Austria. While he was preaching at Seewis, to which he had gone against the advice of his friends, a gun was fired at him, but he escaped unharmed. A Protestant offered to shelter Fidelis, but he declined, saying his life was in God's hands. On the road back, he was set upon by a group of armed men and killed. </p><p>He was canonized in 1746. Fifteen years later, the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, which was established in 1622, recognized him as its first martyr.</p> American Catholic Blog Obedience means total surrender and wholehearted free service to the poorest of the poor. All the difficulties that come in our work are the result of disobedience.

 
PICKS OF THE WEEK
New from Richard Rohr!

Richard Rohr explores how to find God in the depths of silence.

Epic Food Fight
With humor and practical wit, Fr. Leo invites you to read, savor, and digest the truth of our faith in new and appetizing ways!
A Spiritual Banquet!

Whether you are new to cooking, highly experienced, or just enjoy good food, Table of Plenty invites you into experiencing meals as a sacred time.

Pope Francis!

Why did the pope choose the name Francis? Find out in this new book by Gina Loehr.

The Seven Last Words

By focusing on God's love for humanity expressed in the gift of Jesus, The Last Words of Jesus serves as a rich source of meditation throughout the year.


 
CATHOLIC GREETINGS
Easter Thursday
Jesus is calling each one of us to resurrection. How will you respond?
Easter Wednesday
May the Lord be with us as he was with the faithful on that first Easter.
Easter Tuesday
If you’re taking a break this week from work or school, keep in touch with a Catholic Greetings e-card.
Easter Monday
It’s not too late to send an Easter e-card to friends near and far. Let the celebration continue for 50 days!
Easter
Catholic Greetings and AmericanCatholic.org wish you a most holy and joyous Easter season!



Come find us at: Facebook | St. Anthony Messenger magazine Twitter | American Catholic YouTube | American Catholic