Not Add Nor Subtract

(Homily for Twenty-Second Ordinary Sunday, Year B)

Bottom line: As your pastor, I will strive to present Jesus' teaching, his moral law and his sacraments - not adding anything unnecessary nor subtracting anything uncomfortable.

You may know that Pope Benedict declared this year (June 19, 2009 - June 19, 2010) as "Year for Priests." He encourages us to say this prayer:

Loving Father,
I praise you, I love you, I adore you.
Send your Holy Spirit to enlighten the minds of our priest 
to the truth of your Son, Jesus,
Priest and Victim.
Through the same Spirit guide their hearts to his Sacred Heart,
to renew in them a priestly passion
that they, too, might lay down my life upon the altar.
May your Spirit wash away their impurities
and free me from all my transgressions
in the Cup of Salvation,

Let only your will be done in them.
May the Blessed Mother of your dearly beloved Son,
wrap her mantle around them and protect them from all evil.
May she guide me to do whatever He tells them.
May she teach them to have the heart of St. Joseph, her spouse,
to protect and care for the Church his bride.
And may her pierced heart inspire them 
to embrace as their own your children
who suffer at the foot of the cross.
I humbly cry to her:
please be their consoling mother,
and help me to be a better son.
Lord, make them a holy priest,
inflamed with the fire of your love, seeking nothing
but your greater glory and the salvation of souls.
I humbly bless and thank you, my Father,
through the Spirit, in Christ Jesus,
your Son and my brother.

O Mary, Queen of priests, pray for them.
Saint John Vianney, pray for them.*

Our model and patron for this Year for Priests is St. John Vianney. A little story about him summarizes the role of the priest: It happened that when Fr. John Vianney travelled to his new parish, he met a young boy. He asked the boy if he knew the way to Ars. They boy said he did. Then Fr. Vianney said to him, "You show me the way to Ars - and I will show you the way to heaven."

In a few words St. John Vianney summed up the role of the parish priest - To show people the way to heaven. This Sunday's reading are about that: the way to salvation, eternal life, heaven.

In today's first reading, Moses presents the statues and decrees of the Lord. By following them, the people would flourish. But, if they ignored the Lord's law, they would fall into ruin. After explaining those consequences, Moses then warns the people not to add nor subtract from God's teaching.

As I begin my pastorate here in Monroe, I take that as my guiding principle: Not to add unnecesary burdens, but also not to take away something because it makes me (or someone else) uncomfortable. No, I want to give not Bloom's law, but God's law. Only by following it, can you (or I) be saved. God's law is the path to heaven.

God's law has three parts: teaching, morality and prayer.* We can find his teaching summed up in the Apostles' Creed (or the slightly longer Nicene Creed that we recite at Mass). The Ten Commandments sum up morality - how we should behave. Finally, prayer: the Our Father and the Sacraments.

If you want a more detailed explanation of the Apostles' Creed, the Ten Commandments and the Our Father, I have a book for you: The Catechism. I would love every family in this parish to have a copy - not just to keep on the shelf, but to take down and read. You will find it wonderfully accessible, but of course it takes time and concentration. For my part, I will strive to give you the teachings contained in the Catechism - nothing more, but also nothing less. I have a limited amount of time each Sunday, so I want to give you the essentials.

In today's Gospel, Jesus shows how to focus on essentials. I mentioned at the beginning about Moses presenting the Lord's statutes and decrees. Well, twelve hundred years passed between Moses and Jesus. A lot of traditions sprung up during that time. The traditions grew out of thoughtful reflection on practical matters. For example, before eating they had a way of carefully washing their hands - and they developed particular ways of caring for their vessels: cups, jugs, kettles...

These traditions are good, but the problem is that they tend to become the be-all and end-all of salvation. That's why Jesus did something provocative: He and his disciples ate without washing their hands in the prescribed manner. When the leaders questioned Jesus, he directs their attention to the essentials - chastity, honesty, respect for life, humility and so on. Jesus gives a list of sins, similar to the one I put in last Sunday's bulletin.

It was not, of course, my list. It came from the bishops - who are successors of the Apostles. The bishops, like Jesus, are reminding us about the essentials of salvation. We need to focus on these basic requirements. Only then can we keep human traditions in perspective. To illustrate this, I'd like to give two examples: one from our Catholic tradition and the other from the modern Evangelical tradition. I am not doing it to make fun of these traditions - in fact, I like them both.

An example of a Catholic tradition is the Nine First Fridays. It is a wonderful thing to attend Mass on nine consecutive First Fridays - and it brngs incalculable blessings. But it does not automatically guarantee one's salvation.

On the Evangelical side there is a tradition of making an altar call and (quote) "accepting Jesus Christ as one's personal Lord and Savior." That is a beautiful, important thing to do - and I hope all you have done it. If you haven't, why not? Do it today. But we should also recognize that the phrase "accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior" is a human tradition.** You will not find those precise words in the Bible - or that it comprises the totality of salvation.

As I pointed out a couple weeks ago, the Bible teaches these steps to salvation: Faith in Christ that leads to baptism and culminates in receiving Jesus' Body and Blood. Salvation comes from receiving the Eucharist - in the state of grace.

Being in the state of grace means avoiding the sins Jesus lists today: "evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly." I don't think many people have difficulty understanding sins like theft, murder, adultery and arrogance. The last one Jesus mentions might puzzle us: folly. Why is folly a sin? One commentary explains it this way:

"Folly does not mean the foolishness that is due to weakness of intellect and lack of brains; it means moral folly. It describes not the man who is a brainless fool, but the man who chooses to play the fool." (See Barclay, The Gospel of Mark, p. 175)

Jesus puts folly at the end of the list because all sin leads to folly - the darkening of one's intellect, or as one writer put it, "sin makes you stupid." We see that every day. When people sin, they act against their own best interest, they bring ruin upon themselves and others. Dante says that the souls in hell have "lost the good of intellect." They can no longer see the simplest truths.

On the other hand, you have people like St. John Vianney. With gratitude of heart, they can contemplate the most basic realities. They have peace, because they have God - and with him, they possess all else.

That is the invitation of this Sunday: to follow Jesus: to learn his teaching, to follow his moral law and to receive his sacraments. Now, I do not put myself as any paragon - I am a sinner, just as you are. But as your pastor, I will strive to present Jesus teaching - Not to add anything unnecessary, not subtract anything uncomfortable. St. James sums it up well: "Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls."


*The American bishops have a shorter version of this prayer (PDF format).

**The three "c's": creed, code and cult.

***Regarding the polemic about "abandoning the pure word of God for human traditions" Mark Shea gives this list of human traditions embraced by Evangelicals:

 90: Sunday worship promulgated by Didache 
180: God first declared as a "Trinity" of 3 persons by Theophilus 
325: Jesus declared to be of "same substance" as God the Father at Nicea 
381: Prayer to the Holy Spirit authorized by Constantinople 
397: Book of Revelation, till now dubious, now proclaimed to be 
403: Worship of Mary first denounced as heretical by Epiphanius 
418: Salvation apart from Jesus declared heretical by Pope Zosimus 
431: Ephesus declares Mary's human Son to be God himself 
525: Calendar for Easter Sunday instituted 
950: Invention of Bible in English 
1215: Declaration that God created the world "out of nothing" 
1455: Scheme for printing the Bible invented by Gutenberg 
1760: Singing of "Amazing Grace" instituted by John Newton 
1825: Altar calls instituted by Charles Finney 
1863: US Government enforces Thanksgiving to God as official state 
1929: Wednesday night Bible study 
1951: Preachers begin to dress in polyester suits 
1959: Televangelism instituted by Pat Robertson 
1969: "Accepting Jesus Christ as personal Lord and Savior" popularized 
1970: Overhead projectors used in worship service 
1978: Abortion declared to be a grave sin by Evangelicals and 
1991: "Promise Keepers" founded on pattern of neo-pagan "Men's groups" 
1998: Sale and commercialization of WWJD bracelets

General Intercessions for the Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B (from Priests for Life)

Spanish Version

From Archives (Homilies for 22 Sunday, Year B):

2012: Dealing with Distractions
2009: Not Add Nor Subtract
2006: Virtue
2003: The Walking Dead
2000: Facing Ones Own Sins

Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

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