2nd Reading: James 1:17-18, 21-22, 27
It’s hard to believe this is the last Sunday of the summer, the summer that wasn’t. I find it unfair that winter drags on so long and summer is gone in no time.
I’d like to say a few words on the second reading from James. James is such a practical writer; he tells it like it is. The first reading and the gospel are all about laws and traditions and their importance to our relationship with God. The gospel is about keeping things in perspective. James sums everything up with these two statements, be doers of the word and not merely hearers – religion pure and simple is this: to care for widows and orphans in their distress and keep oneself unstained by the world.
There is a tradition in the church that after the death of Pope Sixtus in 258 the prefect of Rome demanded that Lawrence, a Roman deacon, turn over the riches of the Church to the state. St.Ambrose is the earliest source for the tale that Lawrence asked for three days to gather together the wealth of the Church. Lawrence worked swiftly to distribute as much Church property to the poor as possible, so as to prevent its being seized by the prefect. On the third day, at the head of a small delegation, he presented himself to the prefect, and when ordered to give up the treasures of the Church, he presented the poor, the crippled, the blind and the suffering, and said that these were the true treasures of the Church. One account records him declaring to the prefect, “The Church is truly rich, far richer than your emperor.” This act of defiance led directly to his martyrdom.
I think what this tradition teaches us is that when we as a church care for the poor, the crippled, the blind, the widow and orphan, the unemployed or the under employed, the men and women who suffer discrimination because of race, religion or lifestyle then we are living our faith pure and undefiled. Then we are truly doers of the word and not just giving lip service to the faith.
The exasperated Jesus tries to tell the Pharisees and the scribes they’ve got it all wrong. They’ve abandoned the commandment of God “love God above all else and love your neighbour” and they’re stuck on traditions of human origin. They are more interested in correctness than compassion.
Sometimes we get our religious priorities all mixed up. An extreme example would be a convinced right to life person killing a doctor who performs abortions. In Islam we see people who, in a twisted way, are totally dedicated to the Prophet becoming suicide bombers, destroying the lives of innocent men, women and children.
Religion pure and undefiled is this, to care for widows and orphans – the most helpless of people. If this care is neglected then all the rest is for naught. As St. John asks us, “how can anyone say he loves God, whom he’s never seen, when he does not love his neighbour whom he sees?” Time and again the message in the Jewish scripture is, “I desire mercy not sacrifice.”
Love spoken must be love lived. Faith spoken must be faith lived, otherwise we are, as St. Paul says, “sounding brass and tinkling symbols.”
Looking at our own life as a parish family we should be grateful for the many good works, inspired by faith, that take place among us. So many of you good people respond generously to the many appeals put before you; the way you support Share Life, your support of Just Coffee – the food banks – casseroles for the Good Shepherd Centre – the drive to help the young mothers at Rosalie Hall, the way you support the work of St Vincent de Paul – the help parishioners offer at NYGH by visiting the sick and bringing them communion, those who visit shut- ins, all these give witness to the fact that you are doers of the word.
As we continue to celebrate this Mass we can pray for ourselves and for each other that we have the courage to ask ourselves are we doers of the word or just hearers of the word? Do we live the love we speak? May we continue to be as generous as we have been in the past to live a religion pure and undefiled before God by caring for those less fortunate, less blessed than ourselves. May we always remember the words of Jesus,” as often as you did these things to one of these brothers and sisters of mine you did them to me.”