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By Fr. Nnamdi Moneme, OMV, Catholic Exchange, September 6, 2018
I was shocked and disgusted at the airport a few weeks ago when I noticed two men giggling like children as they watched pornographic movies in the middle of a crowded airport lounge. To have the guts to do such a thing in a public place shows the death of decency, shame, fear of God, purity, and respect and concern for the purity of others. I easily recalled and prayed the prayer of Jesus on the cross, “Forgive them Father, for they do not know what they are doing.”
Then the news broke recently of two Chicago area priests — Frs. Diego Berrio and Edwin Cortez — engaging in sexual act in a parked car along Ocean Drive, considered Miami Beach’s most famous street and busiest tourist road, in the broad day light on a Labor Day holiday afternoon. How could I repeat the prayer, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing?” They are Catholic priests for goodness sake, with all their spiritual training, intellectual formation, moral training, and pastoral counselling. Could we also say that they too did not know what they were doing?
They should know what they are doing but they do not grasp the full consequences of their sinful and depraved actions. In this sense, we too never know what we are doing because we can never predict or estimate the temporal and eternal consequences of our sins.
Only Jesus Christ reveals to us the source and full consequence of our sinful thoughts, words, and actions as He did in today’s Gospel, “All these evils come from within and they defile.” This means: All sin finds it source in our hearts and all sins wound and deform the heart no matter what we may think or say about it. The word “defile” is much more than a stain that is easily washed away but it indicates a corruption, a wounding, and a deforming of the heart through sin.
Such a defiled heart will have the following qualities: First, a defiled heart is a blind heart, unable to perceive the good things that God is doing now and promising us in the future. Such a heart will only see evil and gloom everywhere – in themselves, in others and in the world. They cannot see the victory of divine love on the cross, God’s offer of grace at the moment, and the hope that God offers to us for sanctification and eternal life. The impure remain spiritually blind. Hence, the beatitude: “Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God.”
Second, a defiled heart is a hardened heart, unable to reach out and receive the good things that God is offering us in the present moment. It cannot receive divine direction leading it to the place of divine blessings. It cannot perceive God’s loving plan for it as it is in bondage to its own judgments, evil passions and goals.
Third, a defiled heart is eventually a dead heart, unable to enjoy the good things that God is offering to it at every moment. It is chained to the sensual and the transitory things of life.
Today’s Gospel presents to us the Pharisees and Scribes as good examples of men with defiled hearts. They cannot perceive the presence and action of God in Jesus Christ, they accuse Him of being possessed by a demon, and eventually condemned Him to death because of their envy, “Pilate knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered Him up.”(Mt 27:18) They are so hardened in their ways that Jesus once called them “blind guides,” hypocrites who are like “whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.”(Mt 23:27) They cannot receive the divine forgiveness and saving grace that Jesus offered them because they prefer to “cling to human traditions” rather than obey God’s commandments. They cannot enjoy the good things that Jesus offered because all they see is evil in others whom they scrutinize and judge according to their own warped sense of the law. By persisting in their defiled hearts, they cannot perceive, receive and enjoy divine blessings being offered to them.
In today’s First Reading, Moses calls the Israelites to obey God’s commandments “without adding or subtracting from it.” This loving obedience is to help them perceive, obtain, and enjoy the freedom and independence that God offers to them in the Promised Land, “Hear the statutes and decrees which I am teaching you to observe, that you may live, and take possession of the Land which the Lord, the God of your Fathers is giving you.” They are not to be influenced by their pagan neighbors, but their fidelity to God’s commandments is to be a source of witness to the other nations, “Observe them carefully for thus you will give evidence of your wisdom and intelligence to the nations, who will hear of all these statutes and say, ‘This great nation is truly a wise and intelligent people.’” The first step to true witness to God before others is their obedience to all His commandments and the purity of their hearts.
Reflecting on the current clergy sexual abuse scandals and episcopal cover-ups in the Church, it is clear that we still do not know what we are doing at all today. We fail to grasp the full impact of the most grievous sins of impurity that we have done, condoned, encouraged, and even covered up in the Church. We have dismissed and justified such degrading actions like pornography and homosexual actions as simply consensual acts involving adults that does not hurt anybody. Nothing can be further from the truth because all evil defiles, wounds, and corrupts hearts. The consequence is that the world ends up “evangelizing” the Church as worldly mores become more acceptable, justified and welcomed in the Church.
How can we perceive the divine love that God has for us when we persistently live with defiled hearts and justify our evil actions? How can we sense the vocation that God has created and gifted us for on this earth when we dismiss His commandments as being too rigid or out of touch with reality? How can the Spirit of love and life lead us to divine blessings when we have given full reign and power over us to our sinful passions? How can we enjoy inner peace, joy, love, faith, hope, self-control and other gifts that God is offering to us when our hearts remain cold and hardened by our willful sins? How can we reject God’s own standard of morality and compromise and adapt to the worldly values of our times and still hope to perceive, receive and enjoy the fullness of blessings that God offers to us?
St. James tells us that “All good giving and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of light, with whom there is no alteration or shadow caused by change.” No matter our holiness or sinfulness, God does not change in offering us “perfect gifts” that perfect and fulfill us. His first gift is His “word of truth” that gives us birth and “is able to save our souls” if only we “are doers of the word and not just hearers who delude ourselves.” We are also called to a “pure and undefiled religion,” in which we must “keep ourselves unstained by the world.”
Jesus Christ alone, the truth incarnate, reveals to us the true dangers of living with defiled hearts. He reveals this to us so that we can turn to Him with radical confidence and let His love and truth purify us from the very depths of our hearts. Like in our Eucharist today, He is always offering us “perfect gifts,” even as He repeats His prayer for us, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” Yes, we never know what we are doing but, by His perfect gifts, we too can today begin to live His truth with pure hearts without compromising with worldly values so that we can perceive, receive, and enjoy the amazing things that God is doing and offering to us today.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!
Fr. Nnamdi Moneme OMV is a Roman Catholic Priest of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary currently on missionary assignment in the Philippines. He serves in the Congregations’ Retreat Ministry and in the House of Formation for novices and theologians in Antipolo, Philippines. He blogs at www.toquenchhisthirst.wordpress.com.
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