Reading (James 1:19-27) Gospel (St. Mark 8:22-26)
In the first reading today, Saint James tells us that we have to be doers of the word, and not merely hearers of the word. This is so important for us today, because if we are merely hearers of the word, we are going to be like this man whom we hear about in the Gospel. After Jesus touches his eyes, he says, “I see people, but they are like trees walking.” He could not see clearly. If all we do is hear the Word of God, we have the truth (just like this man was able to see to some degree), but if we are not putting the Word of God into practice and instead we are giving ourselves over to sin while all the time claiming to believe in Jesus (because we have heard the Word of God), then what we are doing is to say, “I know what the truth is, I can see, but it’s not very clear because I’m choosing sin over righteousness.” The clarity is not there.
So Saint James tells us there are a few things that we have to do. He tells us, first of all, that we have to be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger. Not the American way, is it? We need to learn how to be silent. This society does not appreciate silence at all, so that is something we have to make for ourselves, to get rid of the things that are bringing all the noise into our lives and learn how to be silent, not only externally but now internally. We cannot be internally silent if there is no external silence, so that has to be the place where we begin.
Then he says, Put away all filth and evil excess, and humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you. In other words, get rid of sin and then we will be able to live the Word of God. It is just that simple. Obviously, sin is in opposition to God’s Word, so we cannot be doing both. That is, again, why we will be able to see but not clearly – because sin brings a fog over the mind. It darkens the mind and it weakens the will so that we are not able to see clearly and we are not able to choose definitively. We need to get rid of it.
Then Saint James goes on and tells us that if we think we are religious and do not bridle our tongues, our religion is in vain and we are self-deceived. How many people who even go to daily Mass are gossips? How many people who spend time in prayer then turn around and rip other people to shreds with detraction, with slander, with all kinds of ugly things that they talk about? Yet we want to say how pious we are. It reminds me of the group of ladies who used to go to Mass everyday at the place where Padre Pio was saying Mass. They called them the “Pious Ladies” because they wanted to sit in the front pew and look pious. But if somebody got there before they did (they had to stand in line before opening the chapel), these women would literally bite them, claw at them, elbow them, and push them out of the way until they had the front spot in the line so that they could sit in the front pew. But they were “pious ladies.” What a bunch of nonsense! It was all for show. Saint James is telling us that our actions are going to speak, and not merely the fake actions of trying to make ourselves look pious, but the real actions of what we do out in the world. And so we need to look very carefully at what we are doing.
Then he says that true religion is going to be about charity. He says it is taking care of widows and orphans and keeping oneself unstained by the world. Now if it was the case 2,000 years ago that we needed to keep ourselves unstained by the world, how much more important is it today? That is what we have to strive for, because if we are letting the world in, we are pushing Jesus out; or else we are duplicitous in our hearts and we say, “Well, I want Jesus there but I want the world there too.” It has to be one or the other ultimately. We either have to be pushing the world out and filling up with Jesus, or we are going to push Jesus out and fill up with the world. We cannot be playing the game of trying to have both. If we try to play that game, ultimately it is the world that is going to win out. We have to make the choice.
If we are going to come to Jesus and ask Him to heal us so that we can see clearly, then we have to want to see, we have to want to get everything out of the way – all of the sin that stands in the way. Otherwise, we know Who He is, we have the Word of God, but we cannot see clearly because sin is causing us to be able to see only in a blurred fashion. If we can get rid of the sin, if we can not only hear the Word of God but put it into practice, then we will be able to see clearly, and then we will be able to have worship and true religion that will give greater glory and honor to Almighty God.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.