Fr. Michael Schleupner offers Mass at our Center frequently and shared this homily with us from last week. We’re so grateful for the wisdom that he shares with us and our guests! Let’s see how he ties a story about dog food into the gospel!
Some years ago, I read a newspaper article about a particular kind of dog food. I was interested in it at that time because I had a dog. Well, the sales of this dog food were falling behind their competitors. And so, there was a meeting of the board of directors of the company that was producing the food. The chairman was frustrated: “I don’t understand this. We’re working hard to produce this food. Our art department has designed award-winning labels for the cans and our advertisers have been putting on an aggressive media campaign. So why are our sales down? Can anyone tell me?”
For a few moments, there was dead silence in the boardroom. Finally, a senior, wise old board member piped up with the answer: “The dogs don’t like it!”
That story opens up for us Jesus’ main point in today’s gospel. The senior board member was pointing out that it is what’s inside the can that counts. In a similar way, Jesus is saying that it is what’s inside us that counts.
The context is that some people are thinking they are living a good life simply by practicing certain rituals. Jesus chides them because they are paying no attention to what’s inside, to their motives or intentions. Jesus’ point is that obeying the commandments of God and observing the traditions of religion are important, but what lies within our hearts is most important. I see Jesus here leading us to an insight into our moral development.
My thought is this. If we look at our life experience, we can identify three levels of moral development. They are: 1) the self-centered, 2) the authority-centered and 3) the inner-centered. Let’s take a look at these as a way to understand what’s inside of us and why we do what we do.
First, there is the self-centered level. When we act on this level, we do something because of what we are going to get out of it as a result. For example, when I was a little boy, I would help to clean off the dinner table because I knew that my parents would give me a bowl of ice cream if I did that.
This self-centered level is usually the beginning of our moral development, and sometimes we all live on this level even as adults. We do something because of what we will get out of it as a result.
Then the second level of moral living is the authority-centered. Here we have risen a bit because we do things in response to some authority outside of ourselves. For example, the Church tells us priests to pray certain prayers every day – called the Liturgy of the Hours – and sometimes I might do that because the Church tells me to, even though I am just breezing through the prayers, and my heart isn’t really in it.
Sometimes we all live on this authority-centered level, and the authority may be our Church, our boss at work or others. This is okay, but Jesus calls us to a higher level of moral development.
This third level is the inner-centered. Here we own within ourselves the values that are underneath the laws, commandments, or directives we are given, and then we live out of these values. For example, we adults may volunteer in some organization or program because we genuinely want to do something for the overall good of everyone.
Here we are living on an inner-centered level, and here the basis of our behavior is the values that we have come to own within ourselves. This level of moral living transforms us as persons and brings out the best in us.
In fact, even though we call it inner-centered, this way of living is really other-centered because it involves a giving of ourselves to something or someone beyond ourselves. I suggest that Jesus calls us to this level of moral living by reminding us that it is what’s inside us, within our hearts that counts most.
~Fr. Michael Schleupner