I saw someone trying to trash a beloved public figure from the entertainment industry over Twitter the other day (for no reason than that they held some different opinions; you know how it goes). One of the accusations against this genuinely nice guy was that he went to a weird Church. Guess which Church that is! Yeah, that’s right—the Roman Catholic Church. They think it’s an insult. I take it as a compliment.
The Church is weird, and beautifully so. I mean, just consider stuff like this: We venerate the bodies of the saints, like St. Catherine of Siena, whose body is in Rome and her head is in Siena. St. Peter Claver was known for serving the slaves coming off of ships from Africa; and sometimes when he gave away his cloak to the naked, they were healed of sickness. Blessed Carino of Balsamo is best known for killing St. Peter of Verona, then repenting and becoming one the holiest men in Italy; and we venerate the sword he used to kill St. Peter as a relic and reminder that no one is too far from God’s mercy. We are weird.
We also believe that God was born of a Virgin as a baby who could not care for Himself. He then lived among us in obscurity, until He was killed for performing miracles and forgiving sins. But that could not end Him, because He rose from the dead. And we believe that when Jesus does come back at the end of time, there is no dead body that will not raise from the dead to meet Him face to face.
No, we are not normal.
In this Gospel, Jesus warns us against becoming too much like this world. We translate the word as “defiles,” which to us means a certain kind of dirtiness or impurity. But in the original Greek and its later Latin translation, the word that Jesus uses can actually be translated as “to make common.” The Pharisees didn’t want to be common, like the rest of the world. In fact, their very name comes from a word that means “the separated ones.” They knew that God had called them to be different than the rest of the world. Like when God gave Israel the Law through Moses, he told them that they would be different, and how that would draw the rest of the world toward God. They were to be set apart and they would be strangely different, but that the rest of the world would desire to be as close to God as they were. But eventually, it seems the Pharisees (at least the ones against Jesus) began to think that they were supposed to be separated from the world for their own safety, instead of to draw the rest of the world toward them. They began to set up rules that would protect them from being made common like everyone else. And then it became impossible for the common people to become holy like them. The Pharisees wanted to be holy in their daily lives, in their homes and at work. But eventually even that got in the way of others becoming holy with them. So Jesus told them, in so many words, “The people you thought would defile you—those are the people who will make you holy.”
As Catholics, we are meant to be set apart and to be different from the rest of the world. We are not meant to be begging to be liked and accepted by the world. We see the world differently and we seek a different kind of joy. It’s not that the things of this world are necessarily bad in themselves. But what we have waiting for us, and what we can begin to experience through the Sacraments and through acts of charity, the heavenly things, are always going to be better than the things we try to hold onto desperately in this life. St. Rose of Lima, whose feast day we had celebrated just this last Monday, had this to say about what makes us something other than common:
“If only mortals would learn how great it is to possess Divine grace, how beautiful, how noble, how precious. How many riches it hides within itself, how many joys and delights! Without doubt they would devote all their care and concern to winning for themselves pains and afflictions. All men throughout the the world would seek trouble, infirmities and torments, instead of good fortune, in order to attain the unfathomable treasure of grace. This is the reward and the final gain of patience. No one would complain about his cross or about troubles that may happen to him, if he would come to know the scales on which they are weighed when they are distributed to men.”
We are not common. We are not normal. And that’s what makes us beautiful and that’s what makes us saints. Our God doesn’t want us to be like everyone else. He wants us to be like Him. And He wants us to bring everyone else with us.