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22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

We love rituals. We love to do things that make celebrations solemn and long even if we do not understand what we are doing. One day I was explaining to a couple their planned wedding ceremony. I was surprised that aside from the customary flower girl, ring bearer and cord and candle sponsors, there were the rosary bearer and the bible bearer, additional characters.

I told the couple that bringing the rosary to their wedding means that they will promise God to pray the rosary daily as husband and wife. The woman looked at the man and said: “Let’s just do away with this.” I also told them that bringing the Bible means they promise to read the Word of God at night everyday. The man turned to the woman: “Honey, forget about the Bible.” And we were back to the basics of the wedding rite.

As Catholics and as Filipinos, we are surrounded by so many rituals everyday of our lives. And we apply them to our daily lives as individuals, as families and as communities. There are traditional rituals for weddings, baptisms, funerals and even for meals. But do we really understand what we are doing? Many times, we are called superstitious because we cannot explain our actions. And the rituals become more important than the reason for having them.

Jesus attacks this mentality in his conversation with the Jews. For the Jews too were attached to so many rituals, stemming from their interpretation of the Law. These daily, cultural and religious rituals became more important than the meaning behind them. At times, like in our case, the Jews too, have forgotten why they perform their actions. These actions have become mechanical and mandatory, set above human intentions and needs. Thus, there was a tendency to attack others who do not follow these practices. And Jesus and his disciples were victims of such vicious criticisms.

We cannot dispute the fact that traditions, rites and rituals are important. They form part of living in a community or group. In the first place, they were established to govern and protect right relationships with God and among the members of the group. But once the reason behind their performance is eclipsed, then the action becomes empty.

Jesus challenges His listeners and all of us today to interiorize our relationship with God and not to be attached to external practices that do not make us grow, that do not inspire us to expand beyond the narrow reaches of our complacency. It is easy to comply with actions so as to appease our consciences and gain the approval of people. But it is more important to return to the essence, the soul, of what we are doing so that we can derive meaning for ourselves and for others.

At a time when so many people are looking for answers, they turn to us to ask questions about our faith, our practices, our devotions, our norms. But do we have the confidence to present a hope-filled response? Or are we going to offer them only more confusion? An eager recourse to the Word of God and to the teachings of the Church can help us live today’s gospel challenge. Let us face the questioning world with mature and informed faith.