The short answer is - no.
Jesus’s followers did not follow the rituals as did the Pharisees because of the lives they led. They were not in the habit of washing before meals or ritually cleaning their cups, bowls and vessels because these practices were not practical to their life style. As laborers, fishermen, carpenters or outcast sinners like tax collectors, these ritual practices were not realistic in their everyday world.
Where would these common working folk find clean water to wash or clean cups while fishing in the sea or working in the fields? As public sinners, why would tax collectors or anyone from any other ‘sinful’ profession, practice these rituals of holiness– what would be the point? As far as the Pharisees were concerned – these sinners could never be acceptable to God?
So, the Pharisee’s criticism against the disciples was really a criticism against Jesus for not gathering the righteous as His followers. Pharisees, who through their privileged lives, were able to follow the rules of righteousness: Rules of holy practice, where they had the time do follow the rituals and impress one another with their elaborate outward signs of holiness. These were just too impractical for the common person to follow.
The faith rituals of the Pharisee’s were only for those whose life styles afforded them the time to practice. To them, God’s love was not for the common man, the lowly, the poor, the working class because those people, made unclean by their lifestyles of labor, were unable to follow the rules. Therefore, these disciples of Jesus could not be considered righteous enough to follow a true prophet.
The Pharisees lost sight of the real purpose behind their devotion to God. They allowed following the rules to replace true faith in and worship of God. For them it was easier to perform outward signs of holiness than to be filled with the Spirit of God. Their rituals replaced turning to their Creator in prayer and contemplation to love and praise Him for all He had done for them. Their outward signs of ritual served only to show others their faith; replacing their inner devotion to God.
In our own lives, do we take time to examine our faith practices? Do we ask ourselves if our faith practices and rituals lead us into an ever closer relationship with God? Do we renew and refresh our faith devotions, so they lead us into a deeper and ever more fruitful relationship with our Lord?
One of my pet peeves in my daily travels to Newark is seeing young people wearing the Rosary around their necks, like jewelry. I like to delude myself that the Arch-Diocese is having a resurgence in vocations or their new evangelizing efforts are truly amazing, but sadly I come to realize it is just a cool thing, an accessorizing thing, among the young. I’m often tempted to ask them if they pray that Rosary. (This may be a good starting point for evangelizing.)
In our lives, when we say the Rosary, do we sometimes rush through the prayers to ‘get-'er-done' or do we make the time to really contemplate on the mysteries?
- Do we carry a Rosary because it’s what Catholics do or do we take the time to say the prayers; allowing them to lead us into a deeper communion with Jesus in our devotion and supplications through Mary, His Mother?
- Do we make the sign of the cross as we pass in front of a Catholic Church? If we practice this devotion, is it merely a rote reaction or do we take that moment to remind ourselves of our Lord’s loving sacrifice on the cross and His presence in the Tabernacle?
- When we pray, do we focus on speaking and listening to the Lord or do our thoughts wander to other things?
Now, just to be perfectly clear - I must confess that this is auto-biographical - I struggle with each of these and more.
I know, we are not nuns living in cloister or monks dedicated to a life of work and prayer within the walls of our monastery – we are living in the world, as is our station in life. Our lives are our vocation: To live in the world, but to not be part of the world. To live out this vocation we are called to keep our mind and our heart on God, our Creator and our Savior, Jesus and the Holy Spirit through our devotions and practices. We do these things so they may lead us into a closer relationship with God.
We all have our work, our families and friends, our interests and activities that constantly demand our attention; calling us away, but we are also called to make room for the Lord in our lives. Our devotions should always remind us to take that moment to open our hearts to God’s love and spend time with Him, who loves us and is always calling us to return to His embrace.
So, no matter what our station in life or how much time we devote to our Lord, no matter what devotional habits we may practice – do them with sincerity of heart and openness to God. Be in awe of God’s love. Spend that moment, that devotional hour, those precious minutes set aside for prayer or whatever other ‘Catholic-thing’ we do - as quality time with the Lord. Let that time, even if it’s just a quick moment, be fruitful. Let Him gaze upon you as you contemplate Him and allow His love to penetrate your heart. ~Amen