After several years of watching his wife cut off the end of the ham before baking it, he finally asked her why. She responded that her mother always cut off the end of the ham, and that was the way it was supposed to be.
Not accepting “the way it was supposed to be,” the husband called his mother-in-law and asked why she cut off the end of the ham before baking. The response was that her mother cut off the end of the ham.
More curious than ever, the husband called grandma and asked her why she cut off the end of the ham. The answer was that she had a small pan, and that was the only way to get the ham to fit.
Today’s Gospel invites us to examine ritual behavior.
Ritual patterns enable us to enter more deeply into an event because we don’t have to devote much mental energy to figure out what is next. The ritual pattern of the Mass helps us enter profoundly into the mystery of God’s love for us, as we can listen closely to the word of God spoken and in the silence of our hearts.
Yet, ritual action can become more important than the message the ritual is meant to express. “You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition,” Jesus complains to the scribes and Pharisees.
I have heard many a comment on over attachment to human tradition by other priests and liturgists. They will speak about the liturgical police, who are ready to report a deviation from the rubrics. On the other hand, they encounter the chant, “we’ve never done it that way before.”
This over attachment to traditional ways of acting or speaking, can reveal an attachment to personal comfort and an unwillingness to be stretched spiritually. Even as priest, I need to be aware of letting my personal comfort of ritual block other practices that can add meaning to the liturgy for others and of God speaking to my heart.
While well intentioned, the commenter seeking liturgical correctness, can miss God speaking in their heart and the full praise that God is due. The gospel reminds us that ritual can guide us in holiness, but authentic holiness comes from within. Believers cannot remain true in holiness if we allow our piety to devolve into empty external ritual. To guard against this emptiness, we require a daily reconnection with God, with the truth of the word, and with others, whose needs, struggles and sorrows should keep us honest in our striving for wholeness and holiness.
How is God stretching your heart?
Have a blessed week, Fr. Ron.