"Be doers of the word, and not just hearers only."
Were today not Sunday, it would be the feast of Pope Saint Pius V. Pope Pius, as many of you know, was Pope during the period following the Council of Trent. This epistle of Saint James is rather fitting to read on his feast day, for he is very fittingly described as a "doer" and not just a "hearer." It fell to Saint Pius to put into practice the many reforms of Trent; making sure that priests were qualified to teach their people the truths of the Faith, so that they wouldn't be seduced by the teachings of Luther; ensuring that bishops and abbots administered their dioceses and abbeys for the spiritual good of the faithful and not for private gain. He standardized the liturgical life of the Western Church, reforming first the Breviary and then the Missal, so that a common Office and Mass was available to all. And if that wasn't enough, he had to deal with the resurgence of Moslem sea power and raids on the countries of the Mediterranean. Our Parish feast day, Our Lady of the Rosary, is in fact, the feast he instituted to commemorate the great naval victory over the Islamic forces at Lepanto.
Looking around us at the condition of the society in which we live, and at the way the Church has been made to suffer at the hands of Her own leaders for the past forty years and more, we would certainly do well to pray that God will raise up another Pope like Pius to once again conduct a thorough reform. And to whatever degree we have influence on Church or state, we must also be "doers," working in any way we can to orient our world back towards Christianity.
Saint James epistle is as appropriate for the modern era as it was when he wrote it twenty centuries ago -- perhaps even more so. Our era is one in which there are considerable discrepancies between word and action.
In the moral life, many can recite the Commandments and the precepts of the Church, and the laws of the State. But somehow or another there is a disconnection between the knowledge and the action. We know better, but we don't do a very good job of keeping the Lord's day, or reverencing His Holy Name. We accept the foolishness that we hear in the media, suggesting that in many cases adultery is not really adultery and that murder is not really murder. We have written laws and standards of behavior, but seem to yield continuously to public opinion or the pressure of personal convenience. We are hearers but not doers.
It isn't much different in the intellectual life. The most cherished beliefs of religious and secular life all seem to yield to convenience, or to the desire to conform to the crowd. Truth is a casualty to the desire to "just get along." It is as though truth were a completely relative thing -- a personal thing, rather than something defined by objective reality. Modern man seems to have no problem with everyone having their own personal "truth"; a "truth" for him, a "truth" for me, and a "truth" for you. Again, we have become hearers rather than doers -- with very few willing to stand up before the crowd to say what is unpopular. We want to avoid conflict and are afraid to say any thing that will lead to unhappy thoughts.
And what about our prayer life? Do we actually pray or do we simply repeat words? With some folks it is immediately obvious -- like those who say the prayers of the Rosary, sounding something like a tobacco auctioneer -- or the priest who says his Mass at maachine gun velocity. But maybe we are all guilty of this a little bit ourselves. Even public prayer ought to be meditative -- we ought to mean what we say or recitte; we ought to reflect on the prayers offered on our behalf, as the priest does for us at Mass. One does not have to be a learned intellectual to make both public and private prayer a true mental communication with God. If we pray without attention to meaning it is not much more beneficial than tape recording our prayers and having the machine pray them back when it is time to pray -- a Western version of the Buddhist prayer wheel! Again, we should ask us are we "doers" or merely "hearers" in our prayer life.
Pope Saint Pius V would be a good patron for us to emulate in all of these ways. Pray earnestly that God sends us more like him to guide the Church and civil society. But even more importantly, in the moral life, in the intellectual life, and in the prayer life -- just like this holy Pope -- we must be doers and not just hearers of the word.