And so once again we find ourselves locked down, and we might think, locked out. Locked out of our churches, and for the great majority of us, locked out of the celebration of the sacraments, and the Eucharist in particular. At a time when it is easy to focus on what we cannot do, it is timely that our Gospel this week calls us to remember what we can.
When the pharisees come to rebuke Jesus, because his disciples are not carrying out the external rituals of purification, he reminds them that nothing outside us can make us spiritually unclean. That depends on what is within. It reminds us of a basic principle of the Christian life, the universal call to holiness.
All of us, wherever we may be, and whatever the circumstances we find ourselves in, are called to grow in holiness. This is a task for which the sacraments given to us are a great help, but in the end is something for us to work out in our daily lives. It may seem more difficult, isolated and locked down, but while we may be separated from many things, we are never separated from the grace of God. That reminder, however, has a message that we might reflect on when we are able to return to the celebration of the sacraments.
The Church has always taken seriously Our Lord’s teaching about the inability of things outside us to alter our inner state. This is shown in her teaching about the effects of the Eucharist. At Mass, provided the basic requirements of form and matter are met, we know that Jesus truly comes to us. The priest may be holy or, much more likely, a wretched sinner, the congregation devout, or distracted and indifferent, and yet that is the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Our Lord there on the altar. Our desire, our sincerity, or lack of it, don’t affect that. But they do alter the effect it has on us.
If I receive Our Lord indifferently, with my life obsessed with things other than God, ignoring the needs of my brothers and sisters, if my service is with lips alone, it will do me no good. Yet that reception has the power to transform me, if I but allow it, and desire it.
So, we have the consolation that no external circumstance, no isolation, no lockdown, can separate us from the love, the grace, of God. If we are not able to celebrate as we might wish at the moment, all of us still have the ability, and the call, to grow in the knowledge and love of God, and of our neighbour. But we also have the challenge that, when we are able to return to celebrate together, that call must continue be the desire and work of our hearts, so that the Lord’s gifts may truly bear fruit in us.
Fr Chris Denham