Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!
Fifth Sunday after Easter—17 May AD 2009

“Religion pure and undefiled before God the Father is this:
to give aid to orphans and widows in their tribulation,
and to keep one's self unspotted from this world.

Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English

    I hope that you have been following the Scripture reading outline that I print each month in the Parish Bulletin—for it had us reading Saint James’ Epistle during the past week, and it is not a coincidence that Saint James’ Epistle was the source of the first reading both this week and last.  It usually helps to read more than the Scripture assigned to the Mass—it helps to put it in proper context.  James is particularly important for he offers a balance to Saint Paul whom we read far more often.

    Paul wrote extensively about the need for Faith—the belief in what God has revealed to be true about Himself and His Moral Law.  Paul also energetically maintained that the ritual prescriptions of the Law of Moses were no longer binding.  He referred to them as “works of the Law—things like circumcision, offering the sacrifices of the Temple, and keeping the Kosher food laws.[2]  Paul often had to contend with the “Judaizers”—those who insisted that one first had to become Jewish and follow the Jewish Law in order to become Christian.  Paul’s point was that salvation ultimately came through belief in God’s revelation, rather than through mere ritual.

    Paul generally used the word “justification.”  But “justification” is a long way from “salvation.”  Our Faith, sealed with the Sacrament of Baptism, leaves us justified—that is to say that it makes us capable of doing things that are pleasing to God as His adopted sons and daughters.  Justification makes us capable of things which earn an eternal reward, and which atone for sin—but it doesn’t guarantee that we will in fact do such things—we are still capable of falling from grace, and of failing to do what is pleasing to God.  Saint James’ point, which is critical to eternal happiness, is that the Baptized person must do good to those around him, and keep himself uncontaminated by the “constantly changing allurements of the world.”[3]  In this same Epistle, Saint James tells us twice that “faith without works is dead.”[4]   Belief is not enough, he reminds us:  “Thou believest that there is one God. Thou dost well: but the devils also believe, and yet tremble.[5]

    Saint James is ultimately practical:  “If a brother or sister be naked, and want daily food: And one of you say to them: ‘Go in peace, be ye warmed and filled’; yet give them not those things that are necessary for the body, what shall it profit?  So faith also, if it have not works, is dead in itself.[6]

    In saint Matthew’s Gospel, our Lord was rather specific about the need for charitable works as a condition of salvation—when we do for those in need, we do for the Lord Himself:

    “Lord, when did we see thee hungry, and fed thee; thirsty, and gave thee drink?  And when did we see thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and covered thee?  Or when did we see thee sick or in prison, and came to thee?” ... “Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me.[7]

    The Church refers to these good works as the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.  You know them from the Catechism:

Corporal Works of Mercy

Spiritual Works of Mercy

To feed the hungry;

To give drink to the thirsty;

To clothe the naked;

To harbour the harbourless;

To visit the sick;

To ransom the captive;

To bury the dead.

To instruct the ignorant

To counsel the doubtful

To admonish sinners;

To bear wrongs patiently;

To forgive offences willingly;

To comfort the afflicted; 

To pray for the living and the dead.

    Both the physical and spiritual works are necessary, for the soul and the body constitute a unity.  It is not enough alone to feed the hungry, not is it enough alone to pray for them—the unity of body and soul which is man requires both.

    We should do all of these things, both to honor God, and to atone for our sins.  Remember that it is better to do penance here on earth, where our works have merit, than to do the penance of Purgatory where they do not.

    If you read the material outlined in the Bulletin, you know that Saint James also wrote about the dangers of careless speech:  “With the same tongue we bless God the father; and with it we curse men.[8]  He warns about discord among Christians, what can be done to avoid it, and what can be done to possess true wisdom.  If you haven’t read the Epistle—it is only five chapters—I urge you to do so.

    But for today, let us close by acknowledging that the other part of Saint James’ message today was to “keep one’s self unspotted from the world.”  This means, at least to observe the Commandments, but should go far beyond that minimum.  We should be creatures that are concerned more with the things of heaven than with the things of earth.

    So, as we approach the close of this Paschal Season, let us resolve to “be doers of the word, and not hearers only.”  Keep those Commandments, practice the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, and raise your minds and your hearts above the things of the earth to the things of God.


[1]  Epistle James i: 22-27.

[2]  Romans iii: 28; Galatians ii: 16; Galatians iii: 2,5,10.

[3]  Collect, Fourth Sunday after Easter

[4]  James ii: 20, 26.

[5]  James ii: 19.

[6]  James ii: 15-17.

[7]  Matthew xxv: 37-40.

[8]  Cf. James iii: 9.




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