HONORING GOD WITH ALL OUR HEART

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time         

            “The one who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord.” 

            Today’s responsorial psalm is taken from Psalm 15. It is often classified as an entrance liturgy. It resembles that part of Christian liturgy where the faithful, before moving on to actual worship, first pause and examine their consciences. It is meant to lead those who are joining the worship into an awareness of how they have practiced justice. They have to honestly examine themselves first… Have they been fair in their dealings with their neighbor? Have they used their money to take advantage of the poor? Have they accepted bribe against the innocent?

            Only those who have respected their neighbor, who have caused no harm, who have avoided all usury, and who have rejected all bribes may enter the Temple to take part in public worship of God. For the author of Psalm 15 only real service will do – not lip service, not hollow words.

            This is echoed in today’s second reading, from the Letter of James. James contrasts empty ritual with true worship. He offers a very concrete way to translate the Word to action: to provide for the needs of the orphans and widows. The best way we can worship God is through service, especially of the poor, the deprived and the oppressed.

            James is telling us that worship or liturgy is hollow unless it moves us to love God by loving one another and by being purer amidst the tempting ways of the world. Our worship, our Christian liturgy is empty unless it leads us to Christian service. It is meaningless unless it impels us to serve the poor and those in need, to defend the weak and the powerless, to seek justice for the victims of oppression. It is worthless unless it translates into practical charity, works of mercy and acts of compassion. It is useless unless it moves us to live a life pleasing to God.

            Jesus, in today’s gospel reading, makes the same point. In fact, he denounces those who do only lip service: “These people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” Let these words disturb us… slap us on the face… wake us up from our complacency and empty worship.

            Today’s gospel passage poses this question: “Where is your heart? What is in your heart?” As you honor and worship God, is your heart close to him or far from him? Consider this question in the context of the first of the two greatest commandments: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” To be able to honor and worship God in the truest sense, our heart must be beating only for God, our soul must be longing only for God, and our mind must be fixed totally on God. If we are to honor and worship God, we are to love him with our whole being – with all our all!

            Where is your heart? What is in your heart? What do you do for enjoyment, and how often? What are you attached to? Are you addicted to something? To some substance or food or drink? To social media and online shopping? To Netflix or K-drama or teleserye? To worldly entertainment and sensual pleasures? To wealth, power, fame, and prestige? In all this, how much room is there for God?

            The First Commandment states: “You shall not have other gods besides me.” Following this commandment can be difficult, because we do not see God. Praying regularly, reading the Sacred Scriptures and spiritual books, spending time in silence and solitude, contemplating nature or sacred images are all means of encountering God more personally, of keeping in touch with the Lord, so that he may never find our hearts far from him. My dear friends, as you honor God in this Mass, make sure that your heart is close to him.

            Let us end with a prayer: Lord God, I want to give You the place in my life that you deserve. and to carry out my duties for love of You. Help me to overcome any addictions or diversions that interfere with my relationship with You or with my other responsibilities. You are the reason and goal of my existence; inspire me, then, to stay close to You. Lord, I want to be with You always. Amen.           

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