Welcome to St Austin's Catholic Parish, Stafford
Listen to this Sunday's Gospel reading by visiting the website www.sundaygospel.co.uk.
25th Sunday in Ordinary Time (23.09.18)
In this 25th Sunday’s 4th continuous extract from his Letter, James, the Apostle, writes about human relationships. His fledgling Christian converts, in the midst of the diasporan Jews, were in a highly emotionally charged environment. Sadly, there are too many like situations in our modern world.
While human life, as we know it, cannot exist without emotions (so say today’s psychologists and psychiatrists) various difficulties in expressing them caused people to act unpredictably and explosively then and now.
Though we engage with our emotions on a daily basis, how well do we understand them? While there is no universally held definition of emotion, most accept emotion to be any conscious experience involving intense mental activity with a certain degree of pleasure or displeasure intertwined with mood, temperament, personality, disposition and motivation.
James urged his fledgling Christians to ask daily for the help of the Holy Spirit when faced with so much difficulty. Jesus, in times of distress and/or pain, interceded with his heavenly Father, for the Spirit is the communion uniting both. Surely the most poignant is Jesus’ cry from the Cross:
“From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). (Matthew 27:45-46)
Jesus experienced being deprived of the sense of his heavenly Father’s love and presence at the high point of his earthly life, his acceptance of Crucifixion.
Through our Baptism of Adoption, we have been gifted with the same Holy Spirit to be our communion with the Father and the Son. There are countless emotionally distraught people who would find solace in Jesus’ cry if it were to be explained and shown to them in practice. Imagine, for example, the impact on his fellow prisoners of the St. Maximillian Kolbe in the Nazis’ concentration camp as he offered himself to save another inmate’s life?
It is vital to be constantly aware that, as the Master of Evil, Satan is highly skilled in sowing the seeds of malicious jealousy and false ambition to contaminate human free will. His first recorded assault is his insinuation and temptation of Eve: “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”(Genesis 3:1) We are but the latest generation living with the consequences of Eve’s, abetted by Adam’s, capitulation. We, too, experience Satan’s uninterrupted use of the subtlety of insinuation to undermine the resolve of the Baptised in their battle to be loyal to God.
As James, through his letter, was the living channel of the Holy Spirit to those fledgling Christians mixed in with their fellow diasporan Jews, so we, too, by prayer, word and action can be channels bringing The Spirit to those for whom we pray on a daily basis. In so doing we are participating with God in achieving good in the midst of evil.
James, in his Letter, identifies how emotions of anger, jealousy etc threaten our freedom of choice. The daily Christian prayer of intercession helps us win strength for others as well as ourselves.
But it is also easy for believers, whose faith is perhaps more nominal than practiced, to pray and act with a sense of self-righteousness, as opposed to acceptance of God’s will.
James makes clear the importance of regular prayer:
“You want something and you lack it; so you kill. You have an ambition that you cannot satisfy; so you fight to get your way by force. It is because you not pray that you do not receive; when you do pray and do not receive, it is because you prayed wrongly, wanting to indulge your passions.”
Jesus’ teaching goes further:
“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” (Luke 6:27-31)
Daily the news makes clear how every human community is prone to problems that arise out of emotions untouched by God’s grace. Damage results when, spurred on by jealousy and ambition, people measure and evaluate their own worth in the light of another’s apparent gifts or gains. Perhaps the only people we can evaluate with any degree of correctness are those who are humble enough to admit their own failures and their gratitude for receiving God’s grace. It is rare for such people to incite great envy or jealousy.
James tells us that conflictual behaviour springs from ignoring the wisdom “from above.” Wisdom from above is a gift of God. The person gifted with this wisdom unwittingly manifests it in their deep humility. God’s gift is available to all without distinction as to race, colour, creed or circumstance. All this is required is a will disposed to receive and collaborate with it.
James criticizes his fledgling Christians if they have allowed conflict and ungraced emotions to dictate their communal life. James points out that their self-centred attitudes have even made their prayer impotent because in asking for their own will, they are ignoring the will of God. James understood the daily pressure-cooker like conditions facing his fledgling exiled Christians – James writes:
“Anyone who is wise and understanding among you should from a good life give evidence of deeds done in the gentleness of wisdom.”
European Christians of the 21st century, fast becoming a minority, bear some resemblance to the Christians to whom James was writing. Jesus’ European disciples today have not been physically overpowered, deported or enslaved – as in other parts of the world. But Europeans know other types of enslavement such as addiction and not only to drugs. Smart phone users in the UK, on average, check their device every 12 minutes; they may spend slightly over two hours per day on their devices.
Have we allowed ourselves to be marginalized and effectively silenced by fear or shame in the fora of European public affairs? If so, then we must ask if our emotions have been influenced by Satan more than by the Holy Spirit?
The broken vows and spilt blood are reminiscent of earlier times. Then, too, God’s chosen people, to whom the Christians of today are linked by Baptism into Jesus Christ, were successfully tempted to leave the Covenantal Way and worship false gods. Satan’s insinuations and manipulations shut the door on prayer.
The physical circumstances confronting James’ fledgling Christians left them in no doubt that they were being persecuted. Are today’s European Christians sufficiently alert to the style of persecution to which believers are being subjected? Satan is undoubtedly behind the confusion that mars our 21st century. But the call of Christ our Redeemer continues to be heard through the lives of faithful believers who, by resisting the Evil One, are calling their brothers and sisters to resist sleep-walking towards the even greater catastrophes to which Jesus has already alerted us:
“There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken.” (Luke 21:25-26)
Perhaps it would be helpful to read Genesis 18:16-33 the account of Abraham – our father in faith – interceding with God. Maybe we could imitate him on behalf of the people of our era?