By Fr. Daniel Shaba
If you have ever been on a retreat you will notice that the last talk is almost always about not relying on the “spiritual high” that a retreat could give you. What exactly is this spiritual high? When you are on a retreat and surrounded by priests and nuns–something that is foreign to your daily way of living–can be overwhelming. After many talks, activities, and being surrounded by priests and religious people can cause something to feel like they are living in a heavenly euphoria. While this feeling is not intrinsically wrong, it should not be the basis of the retreat. The spiritual high will go away at some point and if you have based your entire experience on that then you will be let down. The basis of the retreat is to have a transformation of heart and be in touch with reality.
A similar thing happens in Mark 7 where we see the Pharisees, yet again, attacking Christ and his disciples. In this episode the Pharisees are specifically targeting the disciples for not washing their hands before they ate. The idea of washing your hands was a Jewish observance for priests before offering a sacrifice to God. One may ask, why then are the Pharisees attacking the disciples for not washing their hands if they were not in the temple offering a sacrifice? Simple: this was based on a mere human oral tradition that said every Jew must wash his/her hands prior to eating.
What is interesting in this episode is Mark 7:1 which notes that the Pharisees had just come back from Jerusalem prior to attacking the disciples for their apparent impurity. Their spiritual high went away rather quickly. Jerusalem was the place where the temple was located and people would journey there to be in the presence of Christ. While the Pharisees should have been in a much better place of mind and heart after being in the presence of God, they acted contrary to that.
We may see ourselves fall into this same trap when we attend mass on Sunday. We show up to church (hopefully on time) , hear the homily, participate in mass, receive Communion, stay for the notes (hopefully), and leave. If we want to know where we fall in this spectrum, we should identify how we leave church exactly. If we begin to gossip after mass about some people who attended mass then we are no different from the Pharisees. If we complain about the priest or homily after mass then we are no different than the Pharisees. If the first thing we do is fall into sin after mass, then we are blind to the very purpose of being in the presence of God.
Jesus responds to the Pharisees by quoting Isaiah, “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines and precepts of men.’ You leave the commandment of God, and hold fast the tradition of men” (Mk 7:6-8). We must honor God through our lips and hearts. Jesus is showing the Pharisees how they only honor God with their lips and do not have a transformation of heart.