“Pure, unspoilt religion” : Fr Hugh O’Donnell SDB Salesian Community, Limerick, Ireland

“Pure, unspoilt religion”                                                                                22 Sunday of Ordinary Time


There is a type of religion that Jesus warns us about, that is, one that tries to control its followers by a multiplicity of rules. Jesus had little time for it mainly because it doesn’t go deep enough. It remains on the surface and is quick to find fault and condemn.

Jesus is interested in a person’s heart, that place where you are most yourself. That is the place where the real encounter with his Father takes place.

‘Unspoilt religion’, to use a phrase from this morning’s reading from the letter of St James, is having a heart for the poor and those who are oppressed – those often thought to be ‘unworthy’ – like some of the disciples who didn’t wash their hands before eating and so found themselves described as ‘sinners’.

The list of real ‘sin’ that Jesus lays before the scribes and Pharisees who have come to find fault with him, makes clear how the heart space in each of us can be contaminated by the negative energy of ‘avarice, envy, slander, adultery, pride, foolishness’ but not by how often you fails to wash your hands!

What Jesus does is take the Jewish tradition and distil it for its wisdom and understanding, its recognition, for instance of how close God is to us and for its prophetic message to care for those on the margins of society. God is neither lawyer nor judge. God is all heart as we learn from the life of Jesus, the one who calls on our heart at all hours for surrender and acceptance; the one who loved us into being, who calls all of us his children.

I remember a story of my father as a young Garda being dispatched to a suburban orchard. The owner had caught a boy stealing apples and locked him in a shed until the Law arrived in the form of my father. In due course, the case was called and the boy was charged, the penalty being five shillings or a period of detention. At this point his mother had pleaded with the judge that she was a widow and could not pay. Moved by her predicament, my father had reached into his pocket and handed the lady the cost of the fine. He always had a heart for the underdog and thought very badly of the farmer for his ill-treatment of the boy.

There is a higher law, he seemed to know, whose reach is farther is deeper, the law of ‘pure, unspoilt religion’, the law of love.

 by Fr Hugh O’Donnell SDB  Salesian Community, Limerick, Ireland