Rules and Traditions

Mark 7: 1-13
Gn 1:20–2:4 / Ps 8

You set aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!
(Mark7:9)

By what rites are we purified?
By what rituals are we made clean?
None but by Jesus crucified
Who died for the atonement of our sins.

The Pharisees and some teachers of the law saw disciples of Jesus eating food with hands that were “unclean,” that is, unwashed. (The Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.) So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with ‘unclean’ hands?” He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.’ You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men. You set aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say that if a man says to his father or mother: ‘Whatever help you might receive from me is Corban’ (that is, a gift devoted to God), then you no longer let him do anything for his father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition. And you do many things like that.”

Reflection

The Pharisees and teachers of the law had become so used to their external forms of worship according to man-made practices handed down by their elders that they had forgotten the more essential practices that are pleasing to God — like acts of charity, piety, and obedience to His commandments. In fact, as our Lord cited, their traditional practices had often distorted or even contravened the commands of God.

Our Catholic sacramentals have often been the subject of criticism by other Christian (Protestant) churches who claim that these man-made practices were handed down from a ritual-obsessed past, which have no basis in Scriptures. These practices include our devotion to the Sto. Niño, our respect for the icons of the Blessed Mother, our devotion to her holy rosary, our daily masses, novenas, chaplets, etc. We do find it difficult to explain why we strongly adhere to these religious practices of our faith, but we still remain faithful to them anyway. They are all expressions of piety and devotion, which we believe help us in our desire for spiritual growth. The practice only becomes irrelevant and pharisaical if by these religious practices we think that we are more moral than others, or if we also indulge in other activities that are immoral (like gambling, or heavy drinking). A fellow runner who could not restrain his tongue with cursing words once said he always prayed the rosary when he set out on long runs. We gently reminded him that dirty words and prayers should not come from the same mouth just as fresh water and sewage cannot flow from the same pipe. Our friend agreed that he would make an effort to stop cursing.

Help us, Lord, to better understand all the doctrines of our Church, so that all our religious practices may lead us closer to You. Amen.

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