Last Sunday’s (22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time) Gospel tells the story of Jesus having a meal with his disciples who apparently did not wash their hands properly based on the customs at the time. When the Pharisees mentioned this, Jesus couldn’t help but call out the Pharisees and said to them:
6 He responded, “Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; 7 In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts.’ 8 You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.” 9 He went on to say, “How well you have set aside the commandment of God in order to uphold your tradition!”
Mark 7:6-9 | NABRE
This is not to say that traditions are bad. After all, Saint Paul tells us to “…stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught…” (2Th 2:15). However, we must understand what those traditions or customs mean or represent. If we don’t, even if such traditions or customs have specific meaning, they are relegated to meaningless actions if we don’t put them to heart.
I admit, I am sometimes guilty of this. There are times when I attend Mass, either serving as a Lector or just a normal member of the congregation, my mind wanders off, and so I sit, stand, kneel, and respond, automatically. It is worse of course when I am serving because, when I do get lost in what part of the Mass it is, I fail to lead the people in responding. I am physically part of the highest form of worship, but my heart and mind are far from it.
How many times have we gone to Mass just because we “need” to because it is an “obligation”? We like, the Pharisees, dishonor God whenever we do this, because our hearts are not in it. We fasted an hour before receiving communion at Mass, but are we truly worthy to receive Him? How long has it been since our last Confession? Do we have unconfessed mortal sins? Are we in the proper disposition? The Mass itself, for us in this case, has just become a mere “tradition”.
The same goes with praying devotions like the Rosary. If we are not conscious of what we are doing and do it just for the sake of doing it, it becomes “vain repetition”. I remember the story of three girls who were asked to pray the Rosary. Two of them prayed fervently and with full attention. They were rewarded with beautiful gowns. The third unfortunately did not pray from her heart and she got a tattered dress as a reward. Fortunately, she was given another chance to pray and she also was able to receive a wonderful and beautiful gown. In my own experience sadly, I sometimes lose track of whether or not I have already moved on the next bead, because I am distracted by something in my surroundings or again my mind wanders off for too long.
Hence, we always need to have the proper disposition, a heart open to God. Christ has given the Church the Sacraments and other avenues as a means for Him to impart grace and for us to receive them. How can we receive such graces if we our hearts are not aware or ready to do so?