In the gospel of Saint Mark, Our Lord tells his hearers that it isn’t what goes into a person’s mouth that makes him unclean, but rather the words that come out of his mouth and the thoughts behind them. Saint Mark goes on to say, “Thus Jesus declared all foods clean.”
That was the kind of thing which made enemies and led to Our Lord’s death on the cross. And of course, He knew perfectly well what the effect of his words would be on his contemporaries. The law of kosher (the word means “clean”) was and is very sacred to the Jewish people. It came from Moses in the Old Testament. According to it, only certain animals may be eaten, and then only when all the blood has been drained out of them. Blood is sacred and must never be eaten. And the pig is an unclean animal, so no bacon or ham or pork chops are to be found on the tables of observant Jews.
However, there is nothing inherently immoral about eating pork, and Our Lord wants to emphasize the importance of the moral law (love, justice, kindness, fidelity, etc.) rather than the dietary restrictions of the Old Testament. Just as many Catholics grumbled when the law of abstaining on every Friday of the year was removed by Pope Paul VI, since it seemed to rob them of an element of their identity as Catholics, so some of Jesus’s contemporaries thought that he was taking away the law, which was so important to them as the mainstay of their identity as God’s chosen people.
I remember when the law of Friday abstinence was removed except during Lent, some smart-aleck said to me: “All those people who went to hell for eating meat on Friday — will they go to heaven now?” The answer is that IF anyone went to hell for eating meat on Friday, they would NOT be admitted to heaven now, because their basic sin was one of disobedience, which is always an offense against God.
The real uncleannesses which defile a man, and which Jesus points out, are unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, and foolish behavior. These are what make a man unclean; not what he eats. So, my dear friends, enjoy your ham sandwiches or your blood sausage—the famous “red boudin” of Louisiana—and your meat on the Fridays outside of Lent, but let us all do our best to avoid offending God by those things that Our Lord lists as being essentially sinful. Thank you for seeking God’s truth, God Bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.
Note: This message was composed some years ago.