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Heart Matters: Week 5

Firm not Sluggish Hearts

Dear Spiritual Family,

We have been on quite a journey with James during this series Heart Matters. It is not too late to pick up the Letter of Saint James and hear the wisdom of that Bishop of Jerusalem. Not only is James wise but he is quite a motivator. He exhorts, admonishes, urges, and even goads. It is not all warm and fuzzy.

Key to our reading is the biblical concept of the heart, which is far more than feelings. For people of the day, feelings were felt in the gut. When they spoke of the heart, that included feelings, but the heart was really the center, the place of integration and harmony.

This week we read one of the times James actually uses the word “heart.” Heart occurs five times, in most English translations (1:26, 3:14, 4:8, 5:5 and 5:8) Just take one instance, “If anyone thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this man's religion is vain” (1:26) - We see here that what is in the core/heart and what comes forth from the mouth must match, else religious practice is without merit. James calls out hypocrisy and encourages his people to have their actions align with their deepest core. We have noticed his clarion call multiple times during these weeks.

Closely associated with these passages is the phrase “double mind” or being of “two minds” (1:7, 4:8). He speaks of the conflicts within us that lead to tension. To remove those conflicting desires, to establish harmony or to be one united mind, he counsels penance, asceticism, purification: “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you of two minds,” (Jas 4:8). This is the whole verse we highlighted last week. It behooves us to ask ourselves: what change in behavior would help alleviate that tension I notice in my heart?

This week James has strong words for the wealthy. Throughout the letter, he has called for generous gifts to widows and orphans, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, showing our faith through good deeds. Now he rails against those who have accumulated, rather than been generous. His phrase is “you have fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter.” Inactivity, complacency, decadence led to death, not life. What seemed to be leisure has become demise.

The alternative is a firm and fit heart, that has become so by the living out of the faith, adhering in thought, word, and deed, to the great gift imparted to us at Baptism. I hope this time with James has been as helpful for you as it has been for me.

The next few weeks we take a break from a Message Series, but we are already preparing for “Harvest Principle” beginning on October 24th. Stay tuned!

Yours in Christ,
Fr. Joel Wilson