“[W]hat comes out of the man, that is what defiles him” (Mk 7:20).
Jesus offers a list in today’s gospel of what can be unleashed from within and then directed out toward another. These are examples of what defiles us because, at some level, we make the decision to think about, speak, and put into action those thoughts, words, and actions.
To resist the temptation to defile ourselves and others, we can follow the lead of the writer from the letter to the Hebrews who offered a wonderful verse, which I pray each morning in my recitation of the Office: “Encourage each other daily while it is still today” (Hebrews 3:13). There are many that we will encounter or hear about each day that will do the exact opposite.
Our goal each moment is to resist spending any time or energy in supporting any thoughts, words, or actions that demean, belittle, or dehumanize. We can call those out who do so, stand up for those impoverished from these attacks who do not have a voice but we must not succumb, engage, or in any way be lowered to the negativity unleashed. Otherwise, we become an agent in perpetuating the same vileness and poison already unleashed.
Our thoughts, words, and actions matter because we are all interconnected, and even what we ruminate upon can be projected onto our faces and directed out toward another without saying one word. Thoughts entertained can lead to words and actions that wound. We need to approach each moment more mindfully such that we resist reacting, and instead take a slow breath, think and pray about our response. The only time our silence can be harmful is when we refuse to stand up for others when they disregard the dignity of a person.
Let us choose this day to align our thoughts, words, and actions with those of Jesus. We can follow St Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s five-finger gospel as a reminder: “You did it to me.” What we say and do to the least of our brothers and sisters, we say and do to Jesus (cf. Mt 25:35-45). This begins when we resist defiling ourselves by never letting evil talk pass our lips and instead think, speak, and act in ways that empower, convict, and build up others. Our effort is strengthened when we choose to forgive any negativity hurled at us, and meet it with a posture of compassion that seeks to understand the perspective of the hurler. In our efforts, we are not alone when we call upon the help and strength of Jesus as we strive to become ambassadors of his transforming love.
Photo: St Mother Teresa of Calcutta, in the sanctuary at St Peter Catholic Church