7 February
Mk 7:14-23

Jesus called the crowd again and said to them, ‘Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.’ When he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about the parable. He said to them, ‘Then do you also fail to understand? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters, not the heart but the stomach, and goes out into the sewer?’ (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, ‘It is what comes out of a person that defiles. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.’

All life, not only spiritual life, is transformation: plants and animals transform elements of the earth into themselves; through them, these elements become leaves and branches, or skin, tissue and bone.  Even our brains are transformations of the earth.  A spiritual life that was not likewise a constant process of transformation would not be a life at all.  Spirituality is not something that one has, like a nice garden at the back of the house, a place to go for a break from the nastiness of life.  Instead it is the process of our whole life taking place, involving equally the nice and the nasty.   And so it can never remain static.  Strange, then, that people sometimes think of it as standing above all change. 

St Thomas Aquinas wrote that virtue is the transformation of instinct or passion.  Courage and hope, for example, are transformations of the aggressive instinct; love is the transformation of desire.  These are the flowering of instinct, not the suppression of it.  The Pharisees made thousands of rules to determine every detail of daily life.  What they lacked in spectacular fashion was any power or skill to transform it.  Instead their effort was to separate themselves from it; the very name ‘Pharisee’ means ‘separate’.  The mind of Jesus was just the opposite of this.  What matters, he said, is not what goes into a person from the outside (a reference to their maze of dietary rules) but what comes out from the inside; in other words, how we transform the stuff of our life.  Religion is not about things and the regulation of things, it is about us.  It is about the kind of response we make to the world, to others, and to God.  It is about whether that wonderful ‘chemistry’ of the Gospel is happening in us: the kind of ‘chemistry’ that can turn bad stuff into good, curses into blessings, suffering into prayer. 


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This page gives a very brief commentary by Donagh O’Shea on the gospel reading for each day of the month. 


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