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

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


Ansgar: The “apostle of the north” (Scandinavia) had enough frustrations to become a saint—and he did. He became a Benedictine at Corbie, France, where he had been educated. Three years later, when the king of Denmark became a convert, Ansgar went to that country for three years of missionary work, without noticeable success. Sweden asked for Christian missionaries, and he went there, suffering capture by pirates and other hardships on the way. Fewer than two years later, he was recalled, to become abbot of New Corbie (Corvey) and bishop of Hamburg. The pope made him legate for the Scandinavian missions. Funds for the northern apostolate stopped with Emperor Louis’s death. After 13 years’ work in Hamburg, Ansgar saw it burned to the ground by invading Northmen; Sweden and Denmark returned to paganism. 
<p>He directed new apostolic activities in the North, traveling to Denmark and being instrumental in the conversion of another king. By the strange device of casting lots, the king of Sweden allowed the Christian missionaries to return. </p><p>Ansgar’s biographers remark that he was an extraordinary preacher, a humble and ascetical priest. He was devoted to the poor and the sick, imitating the Lord in washing their feet and waiting on them at table. He died peacefully at Bremen, Germany, without achieving his wish to be a martyr. </p><p>Sweden became pagan again after his death, and remained so until the coming of missionaries two centuries later.</p> American Catholic Blog Every vocation is a vocation to sacrifice and to joy. It is a call to the knowledge of God, to the recognition of God as our Father, to joy in the understanding of His mercy.

 
PICKS OF THE WEEK
The Wisdom of Merton
Explore Merton's wisdom distilled from his books and journals.
It's the Centennial of Thomas Merton's birth
Listen to a best-loved book by one of the greatest spiritual writers of our time!
Who Inspired Thomas Merton?

Discover the Franciscan traces in Merton's work and learn new ways of living in harmony with God, creation, and others.

New for Lent 2015
This Lent, detach yourself from the busyness of everyday life and find stillness and silence.
Discover the Princess Within
The Princess Guide uses fairy tales to inspire young women to dignity, femininity, and fervent faith.

 
CATHOLIC GREETINGS
Year for Consecrated Life
Remember the contributions of religious priests, brothers, and sisters in a special way throughout this year.
St. John Bosco
As an educator, this saint is one of the patrons of Catholic schools and students.
Peace
End this month as you began the year. Share peaceful thoughts with friends and family.
Catholic Schools Week
Through the Catholic school system, parents know that their children are being formed as well as informed.
Sacrament of Marriage
In imitation of Christ, the vocation to marriage can create a relationship for healing and forgiveness.



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


An AmericanCatholic.org Site from the Franciscans and Franciscan Media Copyright © 1996 - 2015