Spirit moves us toward grace, deeper understanding

By: By Sister Rachel Bergschneider, OSB

Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sept. 2

Deuteronomy 4:1-2,6-8; Psalm 15:2-3,3-4,4-5; James 1:17-18,21b-22,27; Mark 7:1-8,14-15,21-23

If there is any set of readings that speak to us in a practical way, it is clearly the readings for this weekend! Who among us has not struggled with being judgmental of others? I’m reminded of the experience I once had in high school.

Apparently, a few of us students were having too much fun. One of the Sisters, who, at this time was in full habit, came to correct us. When she entered the room, she had forgotten to put on all of her headpiece — a very unusual occurrence. “Do you know what you are doing?” she said in a reprimanding tone. We laughed to ourselves, thinking, “Do you know what you are doing?”

It wasn’t a particularly damaging judgment, but it makes the point. We look to the fault in the other rather than attending to our own blemishes.

Today’s readings are a strong reminder to us that the law of God is the law of God and we are not to add to or take away from it for our own purposes. To absorb the law of God into our being takes a lifetime. It is that profound. Attempting to circumvent its demands prevents us from embracing its challenges for us.

Creating our own interpretation of laws — adding to them, for example — helps us in our righteousness to point the finger to those who are not observing our addition. On the other hand, when we subtract from the law we can convince ourselves that it does not apply to us.

It is the gentle movement of grace within us that helps us listen to and deepen the word so that we are formed into a new person as we surrender to its power. This lifelong task is a delicate one because it requires us to pay attention to the Spirit within, urging us to a greater and deeper understanding of the Word that God gave us.

James, in the second reading, says it clearly: “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. God willed to give us birth by the word of truth that we may be a kind of first fruits of his creatures. Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls. “

James speaks of the first fruits of this attentive listening of the Spirit within. Notice that James points to the first fruits as other-centered. “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction.”

Compassion for the other is the first fruit of following the law of God. It is directed at the common good — at the needs of those who are least able to care for themselves. It is not directed to what will help me or my group.
James ends his words today by telling us “to keep oneself unstained by the world.” Jesus enumerates what this is: “From within people — from their hearts — come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder. . . . All these evils come from within and they defile.” If we have accumulated our own laws within, there is no room for God’s word. We lose our grounding.

In each reading, authenticity is key. “Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves.” Pretending we are following God’s law is what the Greeks called “playing the part.” We can play the part ourselves and demand through our judgment of others that they follow God’s law as we interpret it. Or we can look within our heart and hear the words of Deuteronomy, “this is truly a wise and intelligent people” who honor the Lord with more than our lips.


SISTER RACHEL Bergschneider, OSB, is a member of the Sisters of St. Benedict of St. Mary Monastery in Rock Island. She serves as pastoral associate at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Peoria Heights.

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