September 2, 2018 – Pastoral Impressions by Fr. Bill

In the West, we tend to be somewhat obsessed with germs. Hand sanitizer was invented in 1998 for use in healthcare settings. And, during a bad flu season several years back, even churches had hand sanitizer stations setup everywhere. In some churches this practice continues still. We might even say it has become a ritual.

So when we hear that Jesus and some of his disciples did not wash their hands before eating, like the Pharisees, we might also react negatively. But the Pharisees are not complaining about dirty hands. They are talking about pure hands. The handwashing they are talking about is a purifying ritual. It has nothing to do with killing germs. There is no passage in the extensive Law of Moses that prescribes a practice for washing hands. At Jesus’ time, some people imitated the way Moses washed his hands at the altar as a pietistic practice. As we are told there were traditions for purification of cups and kettles and beds. But Jesus calls into question whether all these practices were, in fact, making them better people.

In the Catholic Church, we have strong faith traditions, and the purpose of any faith tradition is to help us become more like Christ. If those traditions
don’t serve that purpose, they rightly fall out of practice. For example, even sixty years ago, all women wore veils or hats in church. There was no
biblical command that they do so. Moses described it as a tradition, and Paul praised the Corinthians for remembering and practicing it as  such. The Code of 1983, however, did not renew this practice, for by then it was not being observed in most churches. Wearing a veil or hat in church was tradition, not a doctrine of faith. And if the woman herself is not living a life that reflects God’s love, then wearing a veil isn’t going to make much difference.

And so, for us as Christians, what makes a difference is just that, namely, how we reflect God’s love. What matters is what Jesus calls the great
commandment, “You shall love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

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