August 29 Reflection

Reflection by Rev. Leonard N. Peterson

Casuistry.  Now there’s a word none of us are likely to use this late August Sunday, unless you’re a theologian or a lawyer, or trying to solve a tough crossword puzzle.  You just heard it in action in today’s Gospel passage from Mrk.  What is it?  “Someone, usually a theologian, who resolves problems of conscience or duty, etc., often with a clever but false reasoning.”  A thoroughly modern version is the so-called “pro-choice” stance regarding abortion.  Here a clever use of the word “choice.” (What red-blooded American could be against choice?) But here the phrase is a substitute for “pro the murder of infants in the womb.”  That is casuistry, pure and simple. It’s also very disingenuous and involves mockery of the opposite opinion.

In the instance reported in today’s gospel, the Holy Spirit, as the primary Author of Scripture, wants us to hear and reflect on as believers.  With His penetrating mind, Jesus notes the Pharisees being so careful here about ritual purity. Note that His reaction is far from the “good and gentle Jesus” of typical holy card description.  He would hardly have been smiling when He said, “Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites!”  Afterward He quoted their greatest prophets on the subject of lip service.

Then Our Lord turns to the crowd present, and forthrightly taught some undeniable logic: “Nothing that enters one from outside can defile a person; but rather the things that come from within are what defile.”  Just think about your last impure thought, perhaps followed by an action that defiled your soul. Consider maybe your impulsive thought to slam on your brakes ahead of an annoying tailgater behind you. Or how about that time you spilled out a juicy tidbit of gossip about a somebody in between sips of your favorite spirits. Those items come from inside, right?

No less a figure than St. Paul understood himself on such matters and humbly admitted it in his Letter to the Romans, chapter 7. “For I know that nothing good lodges in me–in my spiritual nature I mean — for though the will to do good is there, the deed is not. The good which I want to do, I fail to do; but what I do is the wrong which is against my will; and if what I do is against my will, clearly it is no longer I who am the agent. But sin that has its lodging in me…Miserable creature that I am, who is there to rescue me out of this body doomed to death?  God alone, through Jesus Christ our Lord!  Thanks be to God!”

Thanks be to you also, great St. Paul!  For You help us cope with what goes on inside us most days. Let me never be disingenuous with Jesus, for while He knows me better than I know myself, He is always ready to forgive.

On this matter of casuistry and deception; The story has been told of a woman who had acquired wealth and social prominence and decided to have a book written about her genealogy. The well-known author she engaged for the assignment discovered that one of her grandfathers was a murderer who had been electrocuted in Sing Sing.  When he said this would have to be included in the book, the woman pleaded that he find a way of saying it that would hide the truth.

When the book appeared, the incident read as follows: “One of her grandfathers occupied the chair of applied electricity in one of America’s best-known institutions. He was very much attached to his position and literally died in the harness.”

God love you and give you His peace.