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22nd Sunday
If we observe religious groups around us, we will instantly notice how each one is governed by specifics of discipline and custom.  An obvious discipline is on food.  While both Muslims and Jews shun pork, Jews have an additional list of forbidden animals and fish. Buddhists are vegetarians and Hindus too. While Catholics are the most hospitable to all the different food groups! 
In Jesus’ time the rules were not only about food but about how to prepare, touch and eat them and also how to clean up after a meal.  Violating all these sets of rules made one impure.  People became scrupulous observers, not thoughtful practitioners of their faith.
This is what Jesus sets out to do.  He castigates the man-made “traditions” – those not originating from God but mere human inventions that grew around and obscured the core of faith.  And referring to the diet prescriptions he decreed: “Nothing that enters a man from outside can make him impure; that which comes out of him, and only that, constitutes impurity” (Mk. 7:15).
We all have a tendency to return to the mentality opposed by Jesus. We are afraid of contamination if we violate rules, if we do not follow procedures, if we do things differently from the established norms.  Look at how many of us are paralyzed by fear of superstitions or compulsion to follow the tenets of the “elders” or the “way it was done before.”
There is nothing wrong about observing tenets or rituals.  God himself gave us commandments to follow so that our lives may be in accord with his will.  The first reading from Deuteronomy (ch 4) warns us though, not to add or subtract from the words of the Lord.  They are already enough for us, no need for superfluous addenda.
But the Lord Jesus is here telling us that observance must come from the heart.  In that case, nothing is wrong, no one is misled.  The second reading from St. James (ch 1) tells us: “humbly welcome the word that has taken root in you, with its power to save you.”  We welcome God’s word when we open our hearts to him in reverence and to our neighbor in compassion.
Things and events become twisted when our observance is no longer flowing from the heart, no longer guided by the heart that receives God’s word.  We begin to focus on the externals, thinking that only these outside forces make us either worthy or unworthy of God.  The Lord Jesus so rightly illustrates: “wicked designs come from the deep recesses of the heart: acts of fornication, theft, murder, adulterous conduct, greed, maliciousness, deceit, sensuality, envy, blasphemy, arrogance and an obtuse spirit” (Mk 7:18).
Faith is our treasure. Our Catholic faith is God’s gift to enable us to receive his love and reciprocate it.  Do we live our faith only in the externals?  Are we guided by mere outward observances?  Let us endeavor to bring together the heart and our action in loving and serving the Lord and one another.