Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA
Eat five fruits and vegetables daily. Drink six to eight 8 oz. glasses of water daily. Never skip breakfast. Eat protein and complex carbs six times a day. Don’t eat after eight o’clock at night. “Fat-free” doesn’t mean “calorie-free”—read the label! Take smaller portions and chew slowly. Wear a tight belt at meals. Don’t eat alone. Bright green socks will distract you during meals. Eat left-handed. Stick grapefruit seeds behind your ears to rev-up your metabolism. Watch back to back episodes of the surgery channel while eating—especially when they do the eyes! Eat naked in front of a mirror. Eat with your hands. Let someone else feed you. But under no circumstances are you to allow someone else to feed you while sitting naked in front of a mirror wearing green socks with grapefruit seeds stuck behind your ears! That’s just silly. And we don’t want to be silly about our eating habits, do we? Just tell family and friends that you are on a diet and wait for the silly advice to flow. It's almost as if dieting were all about what you do and do not eat. If you've ever been on a diet, you know all too well that dieting is as much about how you think about food as it is about what and how much you eat. Like Jesus says, “Nothing that enters one from outside can defile [a] person; but the things that come out from within are what defile.”
Jesus isn't arguing against the Pharisees' unhealthy eating habits; he's point out to them the foolishness of believing that we can be made unclean by what we put into our bodies. Cleanliness and uncleanliness is not about eating or refraining from eating this or that food. What truly makes us clean or unclean is what comes out from our heart; that is, our words and behaviors indicate whether or not we are holy. He says, “. . . [nothing] that goes into a person from outside [can] defile, since it enters [the stomach] not the heart. . .and passes out into the latrine.” All of the hundreds of dietary laws observed and enforced by the Pharisees are useless in the pursuit of holiness if the heart is left to soak in “evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, and folly.” He concludes the lesson with a simple statement: “All these evils come from within and they defile.”
Catholics really don't worry too much about eating unclean foods. So, that's not our lesson. Let's expand on Jesus' point. Pray the rosary. Recite the Divine Mercy Chaplet. Offer up a novena to the Blessed Mother. Visit the Stations of the Cross. Do this everyday for a year. Are you holier? Maybe but not necessarily. Acts of devotion are effective if and only if you perform them devoutly. In other words, no religious act can in itself make you holy unless you perform them out of a genuine love for God. If eating this or that sort of food cannot make you unclean, then performing this or that devotion is not going to make you holy. Holiness comes from a heart already and always given over to the enduring love of God. Devotional prayer expresses that love and gives a public witness to what God can do for us and to us when we surrender ourselves to His will. Jesus clearly teaches us that it is what comes out of the human heart that makes us clean, or holy, or righteous. You can pray the rosary 12 times a day, but if you exude unchastity, greed, malice, deceit, envy, arrogance, and folly, then your prayer is fruitless. The Psalmist sings, “The mouth of the just murmurs wisdom.” Let nothing but God's love part your lips and grow in wisdom as His reward.___________________
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