Externals vs. Internals??
Today there is presented before us one of the oldest dilemmas in the Christian faith: How do the Law and God's Grace coincide with each other. The Church has long stressed that holding these two in opposition is in fact a false dichotomy. Here's an example of a false dichotomy that will make sense to us all: when presented with the question of having pie or ice cream, I always take them both. Who says I can't, right? They really aren't mutually exclusive, and, in fact, they sure do complement each other quite nicely! The same thing with the Law and Grace. Just like pie is made perfect with ice cream, so God's Law supports His Grace, even bears Grace.
So it is a good thing that the Jews treasured the Law. They were proud of it, they held it up as their pride and joy! And Jesus does not abolish even one letter of the Law. What He does, however, is challenge his listeners to remember what is more important, what the reason for the Law's existence is: the Human person, the Human soul. The Law is meant to make us holy, not miserly. The Law is meant to teach us to relate to God as He desires us, out of love made concrete in action.
This is why Jesus takes the focus off of the external rituals meant to shape our heart and onto the internal workings of the soul that end up driving our actions. Both are good, in one way or another, and if we have one without the other, our life becomes a contradiction. Rituals devoid of true religion is an empty show, and religion without action is worth nothing, as St. James says, “faith without works is dead.”
The Catechism defines true religion as the virtue of justice with respect towards God, or giving to God what is His due. So in par. 2135, the CCC states “Adoring God, praying to him, offering him the worship that belongs to him, fulfilling the promises and vows made to him are acts of the virtue of religion which fall under obedience to the first commandment.” However, we should also notice that James does not mention these things at all when he describes religion to his audience: For James, True Religion means 1)care for orphans and widows in their affliction (aka the poor) and 2) to keep oneself unstained by the world. Religion is action, because we need both external and internal.
So both Law and Grace are good, and are needed by us to order our lives properly toward God and neighbor. Indeed we can have our cake, and our ice cream too!
So here, today, as we pray externally in this the highest of all rituals, the Mass, we beg God through these actions purify our hearts. As we carry out the Law, offering Justice to God (by true religion) and to neighbor, may we receive an abundance of Grace so that our hearts bring forth the fruits of the Spirit and not the defilement of wickedness.