TWENTY-SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – YEAR B
A word that has become increasingly common in our day to day discourse is the adjective, “fake.” For the fun of it I typed it into Google and was offered 801 million results! Fake news is very much on people’s minds, as we can hardly open a newspaper or listen to a news broadcast without hearing that something has been labelled fake news. We have become somewhat inured to that in the political sphere; but this past week we were somewhat startled to find it in our church life as debate rages over Archbishop Vigano’s letter concerning Pope Francis.
Fake designer clothes, shoes, handbags, perfumes, fake art have joined counterfeit currency as a perennial hazard to shoppers as well as copyright holders. Fake. Fake. Fake. So, we find ourselves increasingly challenged to hone our perceptual skills so that we can distinguish genuine from fake.
On this Sunday in Ordinary Time, as we prepare to enter a new pastoral and academic year, the liturgy offers us the further challenge of distinguishing between genuine and fake religion or religiosity. The Scriptures give us to understand that there is a lot of fake floating around out there, some of it really hard to distinguish from the genuine. And they offer us a few criteria for settling on the real thing.
Moses gives us the first criterion in the Book of Deuteronomy when he tells the Israelites about the commandments that he has given them from God, “Observe them carefully.” Now, that might seem to be so obvious that it need hardly be mentioned. But the recurring revelations of clerical sexual abuse, as sickening as they are, also give evidence that all too many preachers were not observing what they preached. Our patron, St. Gregory the Great, whose feast day we will celebrate tomorrow, warned preachers about negating their words by their actions. Genuine religiosity forms lives in accordance with the will of God as revealed in our moral tradition.
The second criterion for genuine religiosity is interiority. That means moving beyond mere obedience to heartfelt devotion and love. Jesus reacts strongly to his critics in today’s Gospel because they lack that interior purity of heart. Without that, Jesus claims, their religion is fake even though their observance of precepts is perfect. Genuine religiosity changes and ennobles human hearts.
Finally, St. James gives us his criteria for genuine religiosity in a simple, straight-forward formula. “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
Catholics are outraged – and rightly so – by the revelations that Church leaders have proven to be fake shepherds, protecting themselves rather than the most innocent and vulnerable members of the flock. And so, where do we turn in our anger, our confusion, our anxiety for the future of our Church? Simon Peter gave us the answer to that – Peter the boastful, flawed but ultimately genuine disciple.
We heard last week how many of Jesus’ disciples could not accept his claim to give them his flesh and blood to drink, in effect dismissing Jesus as a fake, he asked the Twelve if they, too, wished to leave him. It was then that Peter confessed that Jesus is the real thing. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”