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Bible Reflections View Comments

Rules, Rituals, and Relationships
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, September 2, 2012
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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.


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Andrew Kim Taegon, Paul Chong Hasang and Companions: This first native Korean priest was the son of Korean converts. His father, Ignatius Kim, was martyred during the persecution of 1839 and was beatified in 1925. After Baptism at the age of 15, Andrew traveled 1,300 miles to the seminary in Macao, China. After six years he managed to return to his country through Manchuria. That same year he crossed the Yellow Sea to Shanghai and was ordained a priest. Back home again, he was assigned to arrange for more missionaries to enter by a water route that would elude the border patrol. He was arrested, tortured and finally beheaded at the Han River near Seoul, the capital. Paul Chong Hasang was a lay apostle and married man, aged 45. 
<p>Christianity came to Korea during the Japanese invasion in 1592 when some Koreans were baptized, probably by Christian Japanese soldiers. Evangelization was difficult because Korea refused all contact with the outside world except for bringing taxes to Beijing annually. On one of these occasions, around 1777, Christian literature obtained from Jesuits in China led educated Korean Christians to study. A home Church began. When a Chinese priest managed to enter secretly a dozen years later, he found 4,000 Catholics, none of whom had ever seen a priest. Seven years later there were 10,000 Catholics. Religious freedom came in 1883. </p><p>When Pope John Paul II visited Korea in 1984 he canonized, besides Andrew and Paul, 98 Koreans and three French missionaries who had been martyred between 1839 and 1867. Among them were bishops and priests, but for the most part they were lay persons: 47 women, 45 men. </p><p>Among the martyrs in 1839 was Columba Kim, an unmarried woman of 26. She was put in prison, pierced with hot tools and seared with burning coals. She and her sister Agnes were disrobed and kept for two days in a cell with condemned criminals, but were not molested. After Columba complained about the indignity, no more women were subjected to it. The two were beheaded. A boy of 13, Peter Ryou, had his flesh so badly torn that he could pull off pieces and throw them at the judges. He was killed by strangulation. Protase Chong, a 41-year-old noble, apostatized under torture and was freed. Later he came back, confessed his faith and was tortured to death. </p><p>Today, there are almost 5.1 million Catholics in Korea.</p> American Catholic Blog We never think of connecting violence with our tongues. But the first weapon, the most cruel weapon, is the tongue. Examine what part your tongue has played in creating peace or violence. We can really wound a person, we can kill a person, with our tongue.

 
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