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Ritual is not Enough

Homily for Saturday of the 16th Week in Ordinary Time

Today’s reading from the Prophet Jeremiah is something like the coming attractions that we see when we go to a movie. Chapter seven, from which we read today, is a preview of Jeremiah’s Temple speech in chapter twenty-six. Jeremiah is almost killed because of the message that he delivers in the gates of the Temple of Jerusalem.

The people of Jerusalem had strayed from their covenant relationship with God. They had convinced themselves that as long as the Temple rituals were celebrated, they would be safe from their enemies. They placed their hope in the ritual rather than in their conduct. To bring home this point, Jeremiah repeats the phrase three times: “The Temple of the Lord.” Then he goes on to enumerate their sins against the covenant: “Only if you thoroughly reform your ways and your deeds; if each of you deals justly with his neighbor; if you no longer oppress the resident alien, the orphan, and the widow; if you no longer shed innocent blood in this place, or follow strange gods to your own harm, will I remain with you in this place, in the land I gave your fathers long ago and forever.”

Sadly, the kind of thinking of which Jeremiah speaks is still present in our midst. Some think that as long as they go to Mass on Sunday, God will reward them with a place in heaven. The needs of the poor, of the alien, of the widow and orphan are ignored. All that matters is the ritual in our churches. Jeremiah’s condemnation of this attitude could not be clearer. Perhaps this is why the people tried to put him to death because they knew deep down in their hearts that he was right.

God has made a new covenant with us through the blood of Jesus which we especially honor in the month of July. As we offer this sacrifice of praise each day, let us also renew ourselves in the task of caring for those who have been excluded and relegated to the margins of our society.

Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M,

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