Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
August 29, 2021
Fr. John Colacino C.PP.S.





God of might, giver of every good gift,
put into our hearts the love of your name,
so that, by deepening our sense of reverence,
you may nurture in us what is good
and, by your watchful care,
keep safe what you have nurtured.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

First Reading Dt 4:1-2,6-8

Moses said to the people: “Now, Israel, hear the statutes and decrees which I am teaching you to observe,
that you may live, and may enter in and take possession of the land which the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you.  In your observance of the commandments of the LORD, your God, which I enjoin upon you, you shall not add to what I command you nor subtract from it.  Observe them carefully, for thus will you give evidence of your wisdom and intelligence to the nations, who will hear of all these statutes and say, ‘This great nation is truly a wise and intelligent people.’ For what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the LORD, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him?  Or what great nation has statutes and decrees that are as just as this whole law which I am setting before you today?”

Responsorial Psalm Ps 15:2-3,3-4,4-5

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

Whoever walks blamelessly and does justice;
    who thinks the truth in his heart
    and slanders not with his tongue.

Who harms not his fellow man,
    nor takes up a reproach against his neighbor;
by whom the reprobate is despised,
    while he honors those who fear the LORD.

Who lends not his money at usury
    and accepts no bribe against the innocent.
Whoever does these things
    shall never be disturbed.

Second Reading Jas 1:17-18,21b-22,27

Dearest brothers and sisters: All good giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no alteration or shadow caused by change.  He willed to give us birth by the word of truth that we may be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls.Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves.Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

Alleluia Jas 1:18

Gospel Mk 7:1-8,14-15,21-23

When the Pharisees with some scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus, they observed that some of his disciples ate their meals with unclean, that is, unwashed, hands.  — For the Pharisees and, in fact, all Jews, do not eat without carefully washing their hands, keeping the tradition of the elders. And on coming from the marketplace  they do not eat without purifying themselves. And there are many other things that they have traditionally observed, the purification of cups and jugs and kettles and beds. —
So the Pharisees and scribes questioned him, “Why do your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders
but instead eat a meal with unclean hands?”  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;
    in vain do they worship me,
        teaching as doctrines human precepts.

You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.”

He summoned the crowd again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile. “From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile.”

Reflection Questions

  1. What are the “statutes and decrees” that make our nation great?  Which do not?
  2. How do you keep “unstained by the world?”
  3. Where do you see the divine commandment disregarded in favor of mere human tradition?

 Catena Nova

The Pharisees claimed that the traditions of their elders safeguarded the law, but in fact it contravened the law Moses had given. By saying: “Your merchants mix water with the wine,” Isaiah shows that the elders mixed their watery tradition with God’s strict commandment....By their transgression they not only falsified God’s law, mixing water with the wine, but they also set against it their own law, called to this day the Pharisaic law. In this their rabbis suppress some of the commandments, add new ones, and give others their own interpretation, thus making the law serve their own purposes. Their desire to justify these traditions kept them from submitting to God’s law that taught them about the coming of Christ. Instead, they even found fault with the Lord for healing on the sabbath, which was not forbidden by the law, for in a sense the law itself healed by causing circumcision to be performed on the sabbath. On the other hand, they found no fault with themselves for breaking God’s commandment by their tradition and the Pharisaic law just mentioned, or for lacking the essence of the law, which is love for God. That this is the first and greatest commandment, the second being love of our neighbor, the Lord taught by saying that the whole of the law and the prophets depend on these two commandments....Without love all are vain and profitless. Love on the other hand perfects a person and one who loves God is perfect both in this world and the next, for we shall never stop loving God—the longer we gaze upon him the more our love for him will grow (St. Irenaeus of Lyons).

All our religion is but a false religion, and all our virtues are mere illusions and we ourselves are only hypocrites in the sight of God, if we have not that universal charity for everyone – for the good, and for the bad, for the poor and for the rich, and for all those who do us harm as much as those who do us good (St. John Vianney).

Nothing is so easy as to be religious on paper (St. John Henry Newman)

The truth is, of course, that the curtness of the Ten Commandments is an evidence, not of the gloom and narrowness of a religion, but, on the contrary, of its liberality and humanity. It is shorter to state the things forbidden than the things permitted: precisely because most things are permitted, and only a few things are forbidden (GK Chesterton).

At the Last Judgment I will not be asked whether I satisfactorily practised asceticism, nor how many bows I have made before the divine altar: I will be asked whether I fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited the sick, and the prisoner in his jail. That is all I will be asked (St. Maria of Paris).

This power of being outwardly genial and inwardly austere, which is the real Christian temper, depends entirely upon the time set apart for personal religion. It is always achieved if courageously and faithfully sought; and there are no heights of love and holiness to which it cannot lead (Evelyn Underhill).

Jesus pleaded for understanding when he threw out the words: “There is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.” (Mark 7: 15) He has just been debating with the Pharisees and lawyers about what is clean and unclean. He and his disciples had been accused of being unclean because they were unwashed, something that would make them unclean in today’s polite society as well. However, Jesus may not necessarily have been unwashed by our standards. The Jewish Law as understood by the Pharisees required a specific way of washing right up to the elbow and no other way of washing counted. In a follow-up discussion with his disciples, Jesus shifted to the intake of food and said the food we take in does not defile us or make us unclean, but actions and attitudes that come out from the human heart can defile us. Mark adds that with these words, Jesus had declared all foods clean. Jesus is suggesting that certain foods had been scapegoated when they were declared unclean, with the foods being blamed for uncleanness regardless of what is in the human heart. Perhaps rejecting some foods as unclean is no big deal but Jesus is calling attention to our tendency to consider other people unclean, polluting....Jesus is telling us that just as foods do not make us unclean, other people do not make us unclean either (Andrew Marr).


Law Practice

            A good friend of mine, a priest in a neighboring diocese, has been sent to study canon law.  His bishop was heard to remark, “I hope he will be able to apply church law in a pastoral manner.”  That usually means invoking something called epikeia: “a restrictive interpretation of positive law based on the benign will of the legislator who would not want to bind his subjects in certain circumstances” (  In other words, because human law is imperfect by its very nature, including canon law, exceptions can and should be entertained.  That’s one reasons Roman law, after which church law in the West is modeled, foresees the possibility of dispensation unlike Anglo-Saxon traditions which may admit extenuating circumstances but not outright suspension of law.  Now I have no doubt my friend will be a pastoral canonist. 

            Still, what’s a Pharisee to do with those 623 prescriptions of the Mosaic Law they used to govern every aspect of human life?  Well, it seems Jesus was an advocate of epikeia when it came to things he judged mere human traditions while being clear that the divine commandments were not up for grabs.  But telling the difference was a bone of contention with his fellow Jews since the question of what counts, and doesn’t count, in religion can be a very touchy subject. 

            Like when a previous generation of Catholics with delicate consciences might have been bothered to the point of scruples by questions like, “Can you eat Bacos in your salad on a Friday in Lent?” “Does swallowing toothpaste break the Communion fast?” “How far can you go before committing a mortal sin?” and “If you get to church after the Gospel, have you fulfilled your Sunday obligation?” Whereas more recent-vintage Catholics might be troubled by questions like, “Is the title ‘Son of Man’ used of Christ OK, or is it sexist?” “Can blue vestments be worn at Mass during Advent?” “Can a Catholic own stock in a company that invests in fossil fuels?” “Where should the tabernacle be placed?” “Is it wrong to eat produce grown where farmworkers are exploited, or wear clothes made in an overseas sweatshop?”

            Notice questions about the liturgy are still bothersome.  While sexual issues seem to have taken a back seat to issues of social justice in the concern of many Catholics.  Now any or all of these matters might be important to the development of a Catholic conscience, or they might not. It’s not my purpose here to judge between them --  though I’m sure I could start an argument over most any of them.   

            And if I thought the matter of some importance, I would make my appeal to Jesus’ argument with the Pharisees: Be careful you’re not quibbling about merely human traditions and getting all hung up on the outward observances of religion while forgetting how much more important the things that come . . . from within are.  Where the really offensive stuff comes from: evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, and folly.  All these evils come from within and they truly defile (G).

            Unfortunately, such appeals rarely work on those who have a legalist mindset.  One reason Pope Francis has become a target of Catholic pharisees is his criticism of such a spirit in the church.  He has been reflecting lately on St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians during his weekly audience where, speaking of law, he has said:

            It is good for us to ask ourselves if we still live in the period in which we need the Law, or if instead we are fully aware of having received the grace of becoming children of God so as to live in love. How do I live? In the fear that if I do not do this, I will go to hell? Or do I live with that hope too, with that joy of the gratuitousness of salvation in Jesus Christ? It is a good question. And also the second: do I disregard the Commandments? No. I observe them, but not as absolutes, because I know that it is Jesus Christ who justifies me (August 18, 2021).

            Of course, arguing what we must and must not do lest our religion be spoiled, will always have on one side an appeal to tradition with the claim the church will lose its footing without a clear Catholic identity, like the Law gave to the Jews, making them a great nation, renowned for their wisdom and intelligence (cf. I).  And on the other side an appeal to relevance or some new insight with the warning the church must keep pace with the times lest the power of religion to save wane altogether and the church ends up being little more than a museum.

            The conflict between tradition and progress fuels history.  The drama unfolding in Afghanistan could not bring this into sharper focus.  But the church too is facing dissension over different views of tradition and of progress. I often wonder what Jesus would say about the Catholic conflicts raging today.  What issues he would say really matter, and what don’t.  How he would separate wheat from chaff in the controversies that divide us, the ones that make us suspect the good faith of fellow believers.  I think that to Catholic pharisees – who can be found, by the way, among champions of both tradition and progress alike -- Jesus might quote the apostle James: Religion that is pure and undefiled before God . . . is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world (II).  He might also remind us of a famous saying, coined long ago when Catholics were fond of excommuni­cat­ing each other: “In essentials, unity, in things optional, liberty, in all things, charity.”  And yes, in all things, may God be glorified through Christ our Lord.  Amen.


Intercessions (Peter Scagnelli)

Let us offer our prayer to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, who is near to us whenever we call.

For the church: May it grow in faithfulness to God’s commandments, interpreting them with wisdom and discernment for the holiness of all.

For those who hand on the tradition of the church: May their teaching illumine God’s covenant and draw our hearts to it.

For the world: May all peoples know how close God is to those who live the law of love.

For the leaders of nations: May the Lord purify their inmost hearts and direct their thoughts to peace.

For those in any need: May all who honor God with their lips serve Christ, who suffers in others.

For all victims of the evils that come from the human heart: May they find healing for their pain and hope for the future.

For our community: May avarice and pride, slander and deceit and every other defilement be far from our hearts.

May those who have assembled to keep holy the Lord’s Day welcome and live the word that has the power to save our souls.

For the faithful departed: May they enter in and occupy the land that the Lord God has prepared.

Father of light, giver of every good and perfect gift, bring to fruition the word of truth sown in our hearts by your Son, that we may rightly understand your commandments, live your law of love, and so offer you worship that is pure and undefiled. Grant this through Christ our Lord. Amen (ICEL; 1998)


All gifts good and perfect are sent from above;

The Father of lights is their source, in his love,

Who willed us to birth by the word of his truth,

That we, of creation, may be the first-fruits.

When Israel by Moses was given God’s word,

They learned from God’s wisdom in all that they heard.

“Add not to this teaching, and take not away—

Observe God’s will fully; go never astray.”

As Jesus’ disciples ate, unwashed, their food,

The scribes, custom quoting, proclaimed them untrue.

Said Jesus, “God’s teaching is lost in this strife;

With lips, God is honored, but not in your life.”

The things from the outside cannot us defile;

The evil within causes virtue to spoil.

We are to be doers, not hearers alone—

To care for the needy lauds God on His throne!

Lord’s Prayer

Let us pray to the Father of lights in the words Jesus gave us....

Spiritual Communion

Father of lights, from whom we receive every perfect gift from above, we have humbly welcomed the word that has been planted in us and is able to save our souls.  Though we lack today the supreme Gift of the Eucharist, we seek nonetheless to recognize your Christ among and within us through the Spirit who has been given to us. May the divine Presence strengthen us this day to embrace a religion that is pure and undefiled in your sight that we might indeed be among the firstfruits of those redeemed by the Blood of Christ.



Closing Hymn


Ev’ry good and perfect gift

Comes to us from heav’n above,

From the Father of all lights,

Whose good will cannot be moved.

Brought to birth by truthful Word,

First-fruits of God’s loving hand,

Let us act upon this word,

Faithful to our Lord’s command.

We are called to live our faith,

Showing love to all in need;

Living thusly, without stain,

Is to worship God indeed.