Have you ever been in a room that’s just too neat? It doesn’t invite, or sometimes even permit, spontaneous human interaction. It’s like a dining room in which eating and talking are not allowed.
Our passion for neatness and order is not an absolute right; it has to yield to greater, more important values like love and sharing and wholesome fun and responding to the needs of others.
A few philosophers and theologians maintain that we humans are to be only as charitable as the law permits, but Jesus seems to say the very opposite: that the laws we create are to bind us only as much as charity allows.
Love is the greatest, the overriding, the ultimate law. Some scientists have even suggested that the basic law of the universe, law that gives life and order and meaning to it all, is simply love. St. John says that whoever lives in love lives in God. Who can ask, who can be, more than that?
About today’s ancient scripture readings: in the gospel excerpt Jesus contrasts the reassuring neatness of our law-abiding religious lives with what he insists is true religion — the goodness, the love, the life-giving that comes from deep inside the person, the absence of which alone can defile a person.
In our personal relationships things are going to get messy at times; that’s practically unavoidable. Our humanly conceived laws and traditions and rules will not always be perfectly observed — not because of evil intent or malice, but because of human weakness and limitations.
While I was at my desk beginning work on this homily last Monday, I got a phone call from Georgia from the man on death row I’ve been corresponding with for the past 11 years. We were allowed 15 minutes for the call. It’s only the second time in all these years that I have heard his voice. The murder for which he was sentenced happened by accident, even though he was using the loaded gun only to intimidate his victim in a robbery. He knows and he admits that he is the only person responsible for that death, something for which he has been profoundly sorry every day of his life. And he has paid dearly for it for nearly a quarter of a century.
But he has become a good man despite the experience. He makes no excuses for the crime that must be attributed to him, and he lives with a growing awareness of the compassionate God.
What defines us as individual persons is what goes into and what comes out of the deep recesses of our hearts and souls. It isn’t primarily the sacred actions we perform in the various rituals of worship. Worship, including this Mass, is meaningful and helpful only when it is given by a person from whom good and loving deeds are coming all the time. Love, even without worship, will save us. But worship without love is useless.
So, maybe there are areas of your spiritual, religious or moral life that are a bit out of order. Be of good cheer if you are a person who cares for others, who always forgives and forgets, who respects, who brings peace, who shares, who consoles and comforts. There is nothing evil in your heart to defile you. The slight disorder, the messiness you have created will not condemn you. Be patient and kind with yourself as God is with you and as Jesus makes so clear.