Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The second reading at Mass this weekend comes from the Letter of St. James (James 3:16-4:3). There is an awful lot contained in those few verses and they are worth some reflection. I invite you to use this text as a lectio divina starting point for a few days. The practice of lectio divina, or “divine reading,” has been an important part of Catholic spirituality for centuries. It entails reading a passage from Sacred Scripture and spending time prayerfully meditating on the words contained therein. To begin, select the passage you wish to read (in this case, James 3:16-4:3). Before reading, ask for the Holy Spirit’s guidance as you read the word of God. Then, read the passage. As you read, pay attention to any words or phrases that catch your attention, or to the absence of anything grabbing your focus. Then re-read the passage again. You can also read one sentence at a time, repeating each sentence slowly two or three times. The repetition helps the Word to echo in our hearts and for our minds to dwell on the message the Lord wants us to receive. Again, pay attention to the words that stay with you. Then, ask God “What do you want to say to me, Lord?” Listening for the Lord’s response and considering the words you have read, let the passage echo for a while. If the passage you’ve read feels incomplete, continue reading on to see what else the sacred author communicates.
As you read from St. James, you may want to continue reading through chapter 4 up to verse 10, for fuller context and the completion of his thought. “Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from?” He answers “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” How often do we settle for purely secular logic? How often do we try to please the surrounding culture or crowd? How often do we do things not because we think them right, but because it will win approval from the other parents in the pick-up line at school, approval from the social media followers we have, approval from customers or coworkers? Do we allow our hearts and minds to be formed by the Gospel or by worldly logic? St. James makes it very plain that when we are surrendered to the world, there will be war and conflict, but when we are surrendered to God, we find true and lasting peace.
No one can be immune to the currents of this world, especially these last few years. We have witnessed levels of civil discord we never imagined. We have seen friendships dissolve over political slogans, irrational anger expressed publicly about masks (whether in favor or anti), we seem as a society to have lost all sense of balance and civility. “Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from?” It comes from our tendency to surrender to worldly logic and ignore the plan of God, from our believing that we know better and have nothing to learn from the power of God’s enduring mercy. But St. James goes on to give us a remedy. “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you men of double mind. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to dejection. Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you” (James 4:7-10). Instead of venting our rage and anger against one another, instead of boiling over, instead of assuming the worst about the other – note that these are the attitudes and courses of action a worldly attitude encourage – St. James teaches us to bring all of it to God. Cleanse your hands – when we recognize our own role and fault before God we are cleansed. Purify your minds – when we ask for the vision to see as God sees, to think in profound communion with the mind and heart of our Savior, our minds are purified of the clutter and filth of worldly ideals. Humble yourself – if laughter and joy have become a mask for pride and self-reliance, we need to be humbled. Put aside the knee-jerk reaction and embrace the truth of what God wants us to receive. Be humbled before the Lord, because “wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity” (James 3:17).