Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!
Fifth Sunday after Easter—27 April AD 2008
“Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”

[Ordinary of the Mass]
[Today's Mass - English]
[Today's Mass- Latin]

    Quite a number of years ago we had a lady who served the parish as a catechist—teaching the young people the doctrines and moral principles contained in the Baltimore Catechism.  She had been brought up with the Catechism herself, and did a pretty good job of teaching it, for her students were thoroughly familiar with the material they were supposed to know.  One day she showed up about half an hour before Mass, saying that she would not be able to attend Mass, but just wanted to say hello—she had an appointment with her hair dresser, in order to look presentable at a baby shower later in the day.

    Needless to say, I was rather shocked.  There was no doubt in my mind that she had, on numerous occasions, explained to her students the duty to worship God and the duty to keep the Lord’s Day holy;  the fact that God had given us the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as the principle way in which He wanted to be worshipped;  that God grants many many graces to those who assist at Mass, particularly if they receive Holy Communion;  and that the Church which He established requires Her members to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days.

    What may have bothered me the most was that this lady was in completely good faith in her idea that the hair-dresser’s appointment was a perfectly valid reason for not attending Mass—she clearly wasn’t trying to hide what she was doing—indeed she had gone out of her way to come and say hello to me on the way.  It wasn’t as though she was sick, or had to stay home to take care of a sick or elderly person—it wasn’t that she had a burdensome journey to get to Mass, or that she unavoidably found herself somewhere where there was no Mass to attend—she was standing no more than seventy-five feet from the altar.  What seemed to be making itself more and more clear as we talked was that in spite of knowing the instructions given in the Catechism very well indeed, it seemed not to have occurred to her that it was also required of her that she follow those instructions as well!  Mind you, this was a pretty good women as far as not breaking the Commandments which regulate society.  But it seemed clear that she considered the words in the Catechism as an academic exercise—something to be memorized as one might memorize the sonnets of Shakespeare, or the preamble to the Constitution—but not something that extended into the real world, where it was to be a guide for her actual behavior.

    To use Saint James’ phrase, from this morning’s epistle, she was “a hearer of the word,” but “not a doer” of the word—at least not in this particular category; the one where we hear about the duty to worship God.  Saint James, of course, was talking about a different kind of duty;  the duty that we have to those who are less fortunate and in need our spiritual and material help—he mentions widows and orphans this morning, and those who are cold or hungry in the next chapter.[2]  But this idea of “hearing” or “knowing” our obligations, while failing to “do” them, or carry them out, can be applied to all of God’s Commandments, and counsels, and precepts of the Church.  The failure to be a “doer of the word” may be different from person to person.  One might give a great deal to the poor, but treat Mass attendance rather casually(or vice versa)—another might be scrupulous about not using God’s name in vain, but not care much about how he damages the good name of another person with gossip or falsehoods (or vice versa)—another might have great respect for property, but not for life (or vice versa).  Probably, each one of us has an area or two in which we are “hearers of God’s word” but no particularly strong “doers.”

    Again, these chapters in Saint James’ epistle refer primarily to the corporal works of mercy, in favor of our brothers and sisters, but we can use much the same logic with respect to all of our obligations.  It is not enough to know them, without carrying them out to satisfaction.

    While faith is required for salvation—that is to say that we must believe the things which God has publicly revealed to mankind—faith is not enough by itself.  To be sure, the ceremonial works of the Old Law are no longer of value—we no longer keep kosher, circumcise our sons, or worry about having tassels on our cloaks—but the moral Commandments will always be in force as long as we live on the face of the Earth, and perhaps in Heaven as well!  We will always be required to “love the Lord, our God with our whole heart, and whole soul, and whole mind, and whole strength” and also to “love our neighbors as ourselves.”[3]

    It is not enough to believe if we fail to put our beliefs into practice.  It is not enough to say that we believe in God if we ignore our obligations toward Him or even toward our neighbors.  “I was hungry and you did no feed me” ... or “clothe me,” or “visit me,” or “give me to drink.”  The Lord consigns to “the everlasting fire prepared for the devils,” all those who do not put their belief into practice.[4]

    Saint James is very practical in this:  Faith without works is dead in itself.  If you have faith and I have works, you cannot show me your faith—faith is not visible—but I can demonstrate that I have faith by pointing to the good works to which faith has motivated me.  You do well to believe in one God—but the devils also believe—they tremble with the knowledge that faith will not save those who do no good.[5]  Saint James was nothing if he wasn’t clear and direct!

    We all have our weaknesses—some of them quite unintentional, but weaknesses none the less.  In one aspect or another we fail to appreciate that all of God’s Commandments and counsels, and the precepts of His Church, really do apply to us.  They are more than just entries in a catechism to be learned and recited as poetry or prose—they are the standards by which we must regularly examine our consciences—they are to be lived.

    Our Lord invites us to “ask and receive, that your joy may be full.”[6]  Certainly the request most likely to be granted, and the one which will most fill us with eternal joy, is to ask that when we examine our consciences we will know God’s will and have the strength to follow it.  Ask that we may become “doers of God’s word, and not merely hearers, deceiving ourselves.”


[1]   James i: 22-27.

[2]   James ii: 14-26.

[3]   Mark xii: 30-31.  Cf. Matthew xxii: 34-40.

[4]  Matthew xxv: 31-46.

[5]   James ii: 17-20.

[6]   Gospel: John xvi: 23-30


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