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Deut 4: 1-2, 6-8 Ps. 15; James 1: 17-18, 21b-22, 27; Mk 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23

by Jude Siciliano, OP

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Dear Preachers:


 The 22nd




It is said that there is a spiritual awakening happening these days. It’s stirred by the very hectic nature of everyday life and by the bloated excesses of many people having more money (at least in our first world) than they have ever dreamed of having. People are looking for help to replenish their frazzled spirits run ragged by our e-com driven world. All kinds of spiritual interests are being pursued and all kinds of spiritualities are being practiced, from renewed interest in traditional religious practices, to eastern and native American religions, New Age practices, etc. Retreat and spirituality centers are filled and have waiting lists. Even airport bookstores, that usually carry business, or diversionary reading, now feature books on spirituality. The busy traveler can get help relaxing and learn to meditate while sitting in a middle seat on a six hour transcontinental flight. Recently, on one of those flights, I had a long conversation with a woman sitting next to me who was reading a book by the Dali Lama.

We tend to think of "spirituality" as a practice or pursuit reserved for a very few elitist souls. We think of the lucky ones who have the extra time (and money) to pray more, meditate daily, go to special retreats, or read books on the subject. Most of us would claim our lives are far too busy at this time for "spiritual pursuits." We try to get to church and say a few extra prayers while we shave or do our hair. But, as far as "developing our spiritual lives," that will have to wait till we get more time; maybe after the kids leave the house, or when we retire.

All this categorizing of the notions of spirituality is unfortunate. We can’t reserve spirituality to just some special folk who are able to read the latest books, or take time to go to a retreat center. We all have a spiritual life. The question we ask today, in the light of the scriptural readings, concerns the health of our spiritual life. What’s the condition of our interior life these days? Is it a deep well from which can draw riches?...does it give us a sense of abundance unrelated to how much we own?...does it awaken the hunger for God in our daily lives? Or, is it shallow from neglect? Consumed by desires for other than God? Not available to us in times of stress or crisis? If the latter is so, then our spirit is ailing and is not helping us keep our lives integrated, our relationships healthy and ourselves in harmony with the world around us. Our lives are directed, or misdirected, by the condition of our spirit. Our spiritual life either holds us together, or is the cause of chaos and misdirection.

A healthy spirit can make us energetic and vibrant people with a hopeful outlook and a sense of life’s possibilities for the good. It can energize us to face the most intractable of social ills and not be discouraged. It can prevent us from giving up when we don’t get immediate results. A neglected or bloated spirit causes disintegration, sours how we look at our lives, turns us cynical, leaves us with a narrowness of vison that isolates us from others and keeps us locked into our own narcissism. Without a faith-based spirituality, we soon turn away from trying or, after momentary success, turn back to old ways for lack of fortitude and perseverance.

Why all this concern about spirituality and what has it got to do with today’s readings and our preaching? The issue comes up because Jesus confronts the religious leaders who have expressed and based their spirituality on externals. They have taken the revered law of God, about which Moses speaks in the first reading and placed more emphasis on external observances. They are concerned with what is "clean and unclean" (vessels, hands and beds) and they accuse Jesus and his disciples of ignoring the traditions of their ancestors. Earlier (2:23 ff.) Jesus confronted them and underlined the distinction between what is of divine origin and what is of human institutions. Now, in referring to Isaiah, he highlights what prophets have always attacked, the corrupting of religious practices and the oppression of the poor through burdensome religious rules.

The Pharisees and scribes are watching Jesus and his disciples to see if they are observing the ritual rules. John Pilch (THE CULTURAL WORLD OF JESUS) points out that the practices they are speaking of, washing hands, purifying cups, jugs, bottles and beds, are urban practices that could be done by elite city dwellers. Poor people living in the country and travelers like Jesus and his disciples, could never practice these rituals – though they were required to do so. Water just wasn’t that available. Peasants had to do the best they could by adapting these rules to their own situation. However, as we see from today’s encounter, some religious leaders held them to observe all the purification laws, whether that was feasible or not. Jesus takes strong exception to the Pharisees, for they hold in special regard their own human designed traditions, but ignore the Law handed down to them from Moses. Like the prophets before him, Jesus comes to the side of the more vulnerable of society and calls all his hearers back to the teaching about God revealed in the Decalogue.

Jesus isn’t rejecting all ritual practice, but is reminding us that ritual is meaningless if it does not flow from an upright heart. A river of vices flows from a heart that is unclean, "evil thoughts, un-chastity, theft, murder, etc." Jesus is only emphasizing what Judaism always taught – an interior purity is the criteria for ritual purity.

The heart. In the biblical view, the heart is the center of our life. It represents far more than the physical organ, it includes the full range of our interior life, the emotional, intellectual, psychic and moral dispositions of a person. From the heart comes all feelings, emotions, needs and passions. It is the source of what determines our personalities and activities. It is also the place of our encounter with God. When God wants to address a person in the bible to cause a life change, or stir up religious fervor, God addresses the heart. The heart is where God gives insight and places a burning desire for God’s ways in a person. When God wants to go to work on a person, God goes straight to the heart.

The heart then is a figure for the spiritual life of a person. Here can be found a person’s deepest truths, most tightly guarded secrets. It is the heart that reveals our true identity. Because the heart is so profoundly identified with the person, so much the seat of one’s identity, it is only God who can change a person’s heart. (Remember Ezekiel’s prayer for a new heart in Ez. 36:26?)

In calling the Pharisees’ attention to the state of their heart, Jesus is really engaging them in "soul talk." We take pause and we find ourselves in the conversation. We reflect and ask ourselves – what’s within our hearts? The Pharisees and scribes had to have had their hearts provoked by their conversation with Jesus. Whereas they might dismiss him we, his followers, cannot. Today we invite God to probe our hearts and enable us, as they say in 12 step programs, to do a "fearless inventory" of the state of our hearts. What is it we really desire in our lives? To what or whom have we dedicated our deepest energies? How alive to God does our heart feel at this moment?

The grace of this gospel today is to awaken our hearts from their slumber and distractions and stir us to examine the sincerity of our religious observance. Do our lives and our choices reflect the same sensitivity to the poor and disenfranchised as did Jesus’? Or, are we using religious customs as an insulation from the world around us? Just as we make efforts to get our bodies in shape after we have neglected them through lack of exercise and poor diet, so too for our "heart" (our spirituality). God has addressed our heart through the Word today. God is the source of its renewal, starting at this Eucharist. But after this gathering, how else will we tend to the renewal of our hearts? Whom else shall we allow to touch our hearts today with their need, longing for love or desire for forgiveness? We certainly don’t want to be guilty of what God says through the prophet Isaiah, "This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts."

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:


Frequently the experience that sets people on the spiritual path seems to come "out of the blue." It is an experience of intense happiness or joy, or unity, or love that has much in common with the "mystical" visions described in traditional literature....

The First Noble Truth: For some people, the spiritual journey begins with what may first seem to be a "negative" experience. The Buddha, for example, began his spiritual search in earnest when he realized that all beings were subject to old age, sickness and death. The First Noble Truth of the Buddha is the truth of suffering or unsatisfactoriness. It was only after he had faced this truth in deep meditation that he was led to the discovery of the three other Noble Truths — the origin of suffering, the cessation of suffering and the path leading to the cessation of suffering.



Whoever walks blamelessly and does justice; who thinks the truth in his heart and slanders not with his tongue. . .Whoever does these things shall never be disturbed.

Psalm 15:2-5

This Labor Day weekend is a good time to ponder whether our labors lead us to live lives of integrity because today’s readings challenge us to think about the motivations for our actions. Psalm 15 and the Letter of James are wisdom writings offering practical advice on how to lead one’s life. Living a good life, James insists, must include caring for the most vulnerable members of society; faith needs action on their behalf.

In Pope Francis most recent apostolic exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate ("Rejoice and Be Glad"), he discusses the call to holiness in today’s world and human activity that sanctifies. Pope Francis beautifully writes:

25. Just as you cannot understand Christ apart from the kingdom he came to bring, so too your personal mission is inseparable from the building of that kingdom: "Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness" (Mt 6:33). Your identification with Christ and his will involves a commitment to build with him that kingdom of love, justice and universal peace. Christ himself wants to experience this with you, in all the efforts and sacrifices that it entails, but also in all the joy and enrichment it brings. You cannot grow in holiness without committing yourself, body and soul, to giving your best to this endeavour.

26. It is not healthy to love silence while fleeing interaction with others, to want peace and quiet while avoiding activity, to seek prayer while disdaining service. Everything can be accepted and integrated into our life in this world, and become a part of our path to holiness. We are called to be contemplatives even in the midst of action, and to grow in holiness by responsibly and generously carrying out our proper mission.

27. Could the Holy Spirit urge us to carry out a mission and then ask us to abandon it, or not fully engage in it, so as to preserve our inner peace? Yet there are times when we are tempted to relegate pastoral engagement or commitment in the world to second place, as if these were "distractions" along the path to growth in holiness and interior peace. We can forget that "life does not have a mission, but is a mission."

May your labors bring you a holy life.

---Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS

Director of Social Justice Ministries

Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, Raleigh, NC


Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.

From today’s Gospel reading:

Jesus responded, "Well did Isaiah prophesy...

‘This people honors me with their lips,

but their hearts are far from me...."’


When God wants to address a person in the Bible to cause a life change, or stir up religious fervor, God addresses the heart. The heart is where God gives insight and places a burning desire for God’s ways in a person. When God wants to go to work on a person, God goes straight to the heart.

So we ask ourselves:

  • Would I describe my heart as open to what God may be saying to me?
  • Do my prayers flow from my heart, with deep feelings for God?


"One has to strongly affirm that condemnation to the death penalty is an inhuman measure that humiliates personal dignity, in whatever form it is carried out."
---Pope Francis

Inmates on death row are the most forgotten people in the prison system. Each week I post in this space several inmates’ names and addresses. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of them to let them know we have not forgotten them. If you like, tell them you heard about them through North Carolina’s, "People of Faith Against the Death Penalty." If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.

Please write to:

  • James Jaynes #0206197 (On death row since 6/4/99)
  • James Morgan #0291861 (7/8/99)
  • Iziah Barden #0291861 (11/12/99)

----Central Prison 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-4285

For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network:

Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the Death Penalty:


"First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at

If you would like to support this ministry, please send tax deductible contributions to fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

St. Albert Priory 3150 Vince Hagan Drive Irving, Texas 75062-4736

Make checks payable to: Dominican Friars. Or, go to our webpage to make an online donation:


1. We have compiled Four CDS for sale:

  • Individual CDs for each Liturgical Year, A, B or C
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If you are a preacher, lead a Lectionary-based scripture group, or are a member of a liturgical team, these CDs will be helpful in your preparation process. Individual worshipers report they also use these reflections as they prepare for Sunday liturgy.

You can order the CDs by going to our webpage: and clicking on the "First Impressions" CD link on the left.

2. "Homilías Dominicales" —These Spanish reflections on the Sunday and daily scriptures are written by Dominican sisters and friars. If you or a friend would like to receive these reflections drop a note to fr. John Boll, O.P. at

3. Our webpage: - Where you will find "Preachers’ Exchange," which includes "First Impressions" and "Homilías Dominicales," as well as articles, book reviews, daily homilies and other material pertinent to preaching.

4. "First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at the above email address.

Thank you and blessings on your preaching,

fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

Jude Siciliano, OP - Click to send email.


St. Albert the Great Priory of Texas

3150 Vince Hagan Drive

Irving, Texas 75062-4736


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