Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints

Clearly the person who accepts the Church as an infallible guide will believe whatever the Church teaches. - Thomas Aquinas

Gospel text (Mk 7,14-23):
Jesus 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."

When he got home away from the crowd
his disciples questioned him about the parable.
He said to them,
"Are even you likewise without understanding?
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, that 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."

How often these days we hear people asserting that they are spiritual but not religious? This usually means the speaker has no formal institutional religious affiliation but is trying to live a good life by following personal conscience. The assertion also implies an indictment: the person has abandoned church-going because they allege their church was more concerned with externals of belonging to the institution than with conscientious moral living day to day.

Unfortunately this assertion is also common among Christians. These people imply that Christian religious affiliation itself is inherently superficial because it is preoccupied with fulfilling external religious obligations that relate to church belonging rather than with fostering the interior life of the person.This accusation related to Christianity is invalid.

Jesus’ message throughout the Gospel is primarily heart-centered, love-centered! Over and over again Jesus calls disciples to a quality of life that flows from love; on occasion he is even willing to break the law if it interferes with loving others. Witness this in his healings on the Sabbath. Witness this also also in his teaching that the whole law and the prophets are summed up in the two great commandments of loving God and loving our neighbor. Yes, witness this also in his condemnation of Pharisees whom he called “hypocrites.”

The dichotomy between being spiritual and being religious makes no sense for a Christian. We disciples of Jesus are both spiritual and religious. We are privileged to belong to a religious institution because it helps us be faithful to Jesus’ call to love God and neighbor with our entire heart, mind, soul and body — in short, to become the persons that God created us to be!

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