James 1: 22-27
Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves.
For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer,
he is like a man who looks at his own face in a mirror.
He sees himself, then goes off and promptly forgets
what he looked like.
But the one who peers into the perfect law of freedom and perseveres,
and is not a hearer who forgets but a doer who acts;
such a one shall be blessed in what he does.
If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue
but deceives his heart, his religion is vain.
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.
The ever pragmatic St. James from whose letter the above scripture passage is taken speaks to us in this Wednesday’s Mass reading about the practical side of authentic religion. God knows that in the most recent days, the Church has been accused of being hypocritical – saying one thing and doing another. Many reports have been exaggerated and clearly biased, yet certainly we cannot deny our sin. All that aside for now, though.James in this reading makes an important point about authenticity. He states, “Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves . . .” In other words, as I heard a while back, one can do holy things without ever becoming holy. I can go through the motions of my religious practice. I can put on all sorts of pious behavior: folding my hands, lowering my head, speaking softly, even serving the poor. I can show up each weekend for Mass and support my parish financially, then go home and live an alternate lifestyle. The same would be true for us priests.
Each week we all hear the word of God proclaimed but do we really “hear” it? True faith will move us to action. If we truly seek the Spirit’s guidance, the message of the Gospel will touch us. The Eucharist we receive will truly become Christ within us who forms us in his own image.James offers the alternate challenge: “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer . . .” he is like a man who looks at himself in a mirror then goes off and forgets what he saw. “But the one who peers into the perfect law of freedom and perseveres . . . is not a hearer who forgets but a doer who acts . . .”
I love the practical side of this passage since it offers us something so common to sink our teeth into. Don’t just pretend to be a Catholic/Christian – actually be one!This, it seems to me, is being played out before us in the most recent controversy that continues to brew in regards to the still unresolved crisis between the secular government and people of faith. Our Bishops, and so many others, are leading the charge, as is their duty, to articulate and defend what we have always been granted in this Country since its founding – religious liberty. How can we say we stand for one thing but then do another? How can we proclaim the dignity of the human person but then allow that which demeans that person? If we do then we deserve the criticism. Then we are hypocrites.
Evil accomplishes its end through a consistent strategy – divide and conquer; to attack the shepherds and scatter the sheep. If we truly hear the word of God speaking to us, then I think we can more clearly recognize our duty to be authentic in our faith.James concludes: “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.”
It seems to me that the bottom line in all that has been going on, even if this crisis of the HHS mandate did not exist, is to each day strive to be those who live our lives as courageous witnesses of the Gospel.Are you a hearer or a doer?