I will be on retreat this week, Monday through Friday. Please keep me in your prayers, as you will be in mine.
When I was a child, my mother would ask us if we listened to her. I would answer “yes” and later on, when confronted for not telling the truth, I would insist that I DID tell the truth: she didn’t ask if I OBEYED her, she asked if I LISTENED! “Listening” by hearing and “listening” by obeying are two different things! Somehow, she couldn’t see the truth in that, because I still got punished! NOT FAIR!
St. James is addressing our human tendency to “listen” but not obey in our second reading this weekend, when he says, Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves.
One way that we can be “hearers” only, thus deluding ourselves, is to act as though religious practice is what religion is all about. People who do this feel they have fulfilled their religious obligations by
attending Mass, receiving the sacraments, and praying. St. James makes it clear this is NOT what religion is about, when he continues, Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
There are two obligations here and notice which one is first: to care for the most vulnerable in society (widows and orphans were the most vulnerable in that society, since, with no male to protect them, they had no rights). Working for justice and peace is not an optional part of our faith; it is central, as Catholic Social Teaching tells us. But for many it is easier and more comfortable to go to Mass and forget about this.
The second obligation is to “keep ourselves unstained by the world,” that is, to live a good personal life, according to the commandments and Gospel values.
Caring for the vulnerable and keeping ourselves unstained is what our faith is all about. Mass and the sacraments are crucial, as is the support of the community, but as help so we can live our true faith, not as ends in themselves.
I invite us to reflect this week on the two quotes from the letter of St. James given above. Do I have my priorities straight? Am I using my religious practice to help me grow in my care for the vulnerable, as well as to live a virtuous life? How can I do better?
Church sign of the week: Try to make your mark on the world by not making so many marks on the world.