Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English
“Every best gift, and every perfect gift, is from above,
coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no change, nor
shadow of alteration.”
I have always liked the introduction
to today’s epistle. It has a poetic ring to it. The phrase “Father of
Lights” evokes the image of brilliant stars against a black night sky. And
“without shadow of alteration” seems to describe the very tiniest change in
something, and then indicates that even that tiny change cannot take place.
It was only after I took a few years
of philosophy that I came to understand that Saint James was more than a
poet—he was quite accurately describing the nature of God. God is
unchanging—has to be unchanging—because only imperfect beings can change.
There is no one more perfect than God.
Men and women can change because we are not perfect like God. We can become
better only because we are not yet perfect—and, of
course, we all know that we can become worse. Only the
false gods of the pagans are subject to change and alteration.
God’s unchanging perfection implies
that whatever He has revealed about Himself will always remain the same.
The Trinity will never become two Persons, Jesus Christ will always be true
God and true man, it will always be wrong to worship false gods, or to
murder, or to commit adultery. Another way of saying this is that “With God
there is absolute reality.” Since some of these revealed things have a
moral dimension, we can also say “With God there is an absolute morality.”
Of course, only God alone knows all
For the most part, human knowledge comes from a careful
analysis of the world around us—there is an objective reality, but often we
must struggle to know it, and sometimes the struggle takes years or even
centuries. People are willing to make that effort because once that
objective reality is known, we can trust it to be consistent in describing
the world, and that we can make valuable use of it. Modern technology, for
example, is based on the idea that the laws of science are consistent—we are
quite sure that the laws of gravity (among all the other laws) will be the
same, day in and day out. If we didn’t have this objective reality, none of
our devices and machines would work.
Since most of our knowledge comes
through careful observation, we tend to have a lot more disagreement about
things we cannot observe and measure and touch. In fact, one (erroneous)
school of philosophy claims that things are not real unless they can be
observed and measured and touched. Others say they may be real, but we can
have nothing more than opinions about them.
Even worse, some modern
“philosophers” go so far as to claim that such opinions can change reality.
Such people are usually
seeking an excuse to indulge their lusts or their desire for earthly power.
A man’s opinion that he is a woman, they say, is enough to make him
one! The opinion that mankind is responsible for global warming makes it
true in spite of evidence of cooling. The opinion that guns make society
more violent is “true” to many who refuse to consider real world crime
statistics. Opinions about religion and morality are foolishly thought to
contradict the objective reality in the mind of God!
But we human beings are capable of
knowing the things that God knows and chooses to reveal to us. And, if we
are honest with ourselves, and don’t try to indulge our lusts,
the unaided human mind can do a fair job of knowing the objective realities
of religion and morality. God has graciously told us not to beat, kill,
steal, lie and cheat—but simple human experience tells us that no society
can tolerate a lot of such behavior and survive.
But God has revealed all of these
things to us through Moses and the Prophets, and through His Son Jesus
Christ. None of the things of the moral law are debatable or optional. Are
we surprised that our Lord says that when we go against His law and against
His teaching, we are convicted “of sin, and of justice, and of judgment”—and
we are convicted by “the Spirit of Truth.”
If the language of this Gospel reading seems a little strange to modern
ears, Bishop Challoner explains it this way:
The Holy Ghost, by his coming brought over many
thousands, first, to a sense of their sin in not believing in
Christ. Secondly, to a conviction of the justice of Christ, now
sitting at the right hand of his Father. And thirdly, to a right
apprehension of the judgment prepared for them that choose to follow
Satan, who is already judged and condemned.
And, the Holy Ghost, of course is
“the Spirit of Truth.”
“But when he, the, Spirit of truth,
is come, he will teach you all truth; for he shall not speak of himself; but
what things soever he shall hear, he shall speak….”
The Spirit of Truth hears from the Father, who is absolute Truth. He
repeats, often enough, what the Son, who is “the way, and the truth,
and the life” has told us Himself. He speaks to us through the Apostles and
their truthful successors, through the true magisterial authority of the
Catholic Church, the faithful keeper of Scripture and oral Tradition.
Through the authentic Catholic Faith, the Holy Ghost speaks Truth to us from
“the Father of lights, with whom there is no change, nor shadow of