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from fathers desk

Dear Friends in Christ,

“Consider it all joy, my brothers & sisters, when you encounter various trials,” (James 1:2) - such is the initial salvo of Saint James after the greeting. That is quite a way to begin a letter! And quite an association - joy with trial. James may have said, embrace your crosses, meaning to carry through with a distasteful thing that we know is good for us. In the same way Mom used to say, “Eat your vegetables!” or the dentist tells us to floss. As Christians we “know” that we need to embrace our crosses. But those words “all joy” are a shot across the bow. How many times have we failed to be joyful in the midst of trials over the course of these past 18 months? That might be a good matter to bring to the Sacrament of Confession.

For the next five weeks, our second reading centers on the Letter of Saint James. Five simple chapters, a wealth of wisdom, more of a long sermon than a letter dealing with specific and nuanced concerns. Something new strikes me, convicts me more to the point, every time I take up James’ Letter, so I encourage you to spend time with it over the next five weeks. Over this same period our Message Series stretches. Called “Heart Matters,” it was a challenge to choose a title. “Gotta Have Heart!” and “Heart Engagement” were among the finalists. The main thrust of this beautiful letter is to live out our faith from a deep resonance and harmony of our lives.

Each of our readings this week arrives at the crux of the matter. First, Jesus in the Gospel quotes Isaiah: “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me…” (Mk 7:6) He seeks to move the Jews away from mere external purifications to the more pressing, transformative yet difficult, cleansing of the heart. Germs, dirt and muck do not defile the person; rather, evils from within are what truly defile us. The sins that arise from our hearts render us unclean and unfit to enter into communion with God. Second, In Deuteronomy Moses tells the people to hear and observe the commandments he sets before them, that they may live. Life is not found in knowing the law but in abiding by it. Elsewhere, Jesus puts it this way, “If you love me, keep my commandments!” (Jn 14:15) Lastly, James tells the children of the diaspora, if you permit me to paraphrase: the word of God has been planted in you, so be doers of the word, not merely hearers. In this way, you will become a type of first fruits of the Word in the world. James desires his audience to engage their whole person in the practice of the faith. It is not enough to hear, we must build a life based on the Gospel.

If we take a step back, we recognize that it is not enough to (just) know the commandments, to be aware of what the Word of God says. Our religion is not a series of ideas, or even a moral code - like the commandments. Rather, we must live out of that Word, base our whole lives on it. Our religion is a way of life. Jesus desires us to live a whole new kind of life based in Him. That is the heart of the matter ;).

To that end, twice James uses the phrase “double mind,” meaning: be not of two minds; or avoid interior conflict. He admonishes: “Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you men of double mind.” (Jm 4:8) And he cautions, “A double-minded man, unstable in all his ways, will [not] receive anything from the Lord.” (Jm 1:7-8). James argues that conflicts within us prevent God’s action, thwart progress in the spiritual life, and generally lead to unhappiness. More specifically, that unhappiness arises from a conflict that creates obstacles within our person.

Much more to delve into, especially the biblical notion of the heart. I am looking forward to Sunday and beginning with you our study of Heart Matters, the Letter of James. Yours in Christ,

Fr. Wilson