I was struck by the neat antithesis of the Epistle (St James i, 17-18, 21-22, 27) and Gospel (St Mark vii, 1-8, 14-15, 21-23) at to-night's Vigil Mass, best summed up in the word of the Lord spoken to Hosea: "Destruction is thy own, O Israel: thy help is only in me." (Osee xiii, 9)
As St James attests, every good and perfect gift cometh down from above, from God, Who, being Pure Act, suffers no alteration nor shadow of change (cf. i, 17); by His own will we are begotten as His children by His Word of truth (i, 18). But rather than just hearing without heeding the word planted in us and paying it only lip service, we ought pray it be engrafted into our hearts at our free assent and coöperation inspired by grace, to bring forth the fruits of good works, lest we deceive ourselves and hope for salvation in vain (cf. i, 21f). By His grace, we ought keep to religion pure and undefiled - helping widows and orphans (the set types of the piteously needy) and keeping uncontaminated by the world (i, 27).
I was irresistibly reminded of one of the BCP Collects after the Offertory, clearly based on this text:
Grant, we beseech thee, Almighty God, that the words, which we have heard this day with our outward ears, may through thy grace be so grafted inwardly in our hearts, that they may bring forth in us the fruit of good living, to the honour and praise of thy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Opposed to the recognition that all grace is from above is the low human tendency to pretend our vile acts are good: to rationalize away our sins and offences, in mad self-deception, sinning against the Holy Ghost by cutting ourselves off from seeing the truth that alone can set us free. Well did St Augustine daily pray (as was mentioned at Mass), "Lord, that I may know Thee; Lord, that I may know myself"! The Pharisees, as St Mark's Gospel describes them, were hypocrites - feigning to set themselves apart as pure (their name means "separated") yet, relying not on God but on human traditions, washed themselves again and again while neglecting charity. Lady Macbeth was similarly concerned with achieving a merely forensic purity, while having a heart icecold and dead.
Fr Allan mentioned at the outset of his sermon two comic characters - Arthur Daley, that rogue, and Sir Humprey Appleby, that smooth conniver. We ought admit our faults and failings, that we all of us have something of them in us, and beg for the grace to open our eyes to this, that we fail not in charity nor in true purity: for out of the heart comes much lying perversity that merits only damnation.
Destruction is thy own, O Israel: thy help is only in me. (Osee xiii, 9)