Devotees when entering the Baclaran shrine, typically dip their fingers in the fonts of holy water located near the entrance doors of the shrine then make the sign of the cross. Some devotees used the Holy Water generously washing their whole hands into the Holy Water font or wetting with Holy Water their faces, arms or any other parts of the body especially those with pain. Sam Samantha complained against such practice in June 19, 2017:
May I request that the holy water font should not be used for washing of the hands … How many times have I experienced when I was about to dip my finger into the holy water, somebody would suddenly come in and wash their hands right into the font.
This scenario seemingly show that some devotees see more the external significance of Holy Water as having imbued with some special power which can help them ward off evil powers or assist them in everyday afflictions like physical sickness rather than the internal significance of Holy Water as the symbol of new life which they have received in baptism.
In today’s Gospel of the 22nd Sunday in ordinary time, Jesus and the Pharisees had a public fight about the Jewish tradition of washing hands before meals. The Pharisees were complaining to Jesus why some of his disciples are not washing their hands before eating. This rule was “a tradition of the elders,” to preserve physical health, of course. But Jesus calls out the Pharisees’ obsession with the exterior observance of the law while disregarding the inner meaning of traditions and laws. Jesus was angry at the Pharisees and Scribes because they manipulated exterior laws to feed their own egos.
This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.
In the eyes of Jesus, a pure heart is more important than clean hands. The observance of the Law and tradition is not an end in itself but an indication of where the heart lies. Jesus called the people to the true purpose of the Law: a heart centered on God.
To drive his point home with his disciples, Jesus dares to draw an earthy analogy from their experience of digestion and defecation. The food that comes inside one’s body is clean but when it comes out it is dirty as in feces.
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.
The theme of the law of God as planted in the hearts of the people is articulated in the other readings today. In the First Reading: Moses’ teaching about the wisdom of the Law reminds the people where the heart of God lies: close to them. The purpose of our observance of the Law is to keep our hearts close to God.
In the second reading, James says the law is planted in each one of us.
Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you
and is able to save your souls.
James understood the meaning of the law of God is not just in devotion and worship but also in caring for the poor and most abandoned,
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.
The responsorial psalm also expresses James’ social dimension of the law. Observing the Law is not a matter of clinging to what is human tradition but rather of practicing justice:
The one who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord.
Any law of the Kingdom of God must emerge from love or else be empty. We don’t ignore the laws and have just inner devotion. But we need pure heart in order to truly observe the laws. A pure heart is a heart centered not on self-preservation but on loving God and loving God in one’s neighbor.
Lord, dwell in our hearts. Let the world know we are your disciples not because our hands are clean but because our hearts are sincere and dedicated in service to God and fellowmen and women.