Fr. Scott A. Haynes
In the Epistle of St. James, the Holy Apostle commands us:
"Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only" (James 1:22).
St. James is teaching us that, if we are going to really and truly live as Christians, we cannot just come to Mass on Sunday, hear God’s Word, and then just leave without making a solid resolution to live the Gospel life of charity. St. James goes on to say,
"For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass. For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was" (James 1:23-24).
Know that the word of God is the "Perfect law of liberty" (James 1:25). These are not just words on a page. There is something genuine to be lived in our faith. Our religion, if it is true, if it is pure, if it is real, must the incarnation of the word of God in our own lives. Remember that before Mary conceived Jesus in her womb she had first conceived Him in her heart. In other words Divine love was in her heart before Divine Love took on flesh and blood in her womb. St. James writes further:
"If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world" (James 1:26).
See that the word of God is like a mirror. It is the reflection of God's charity. This means we must be judicious with our speech. Be careful not to destroy someone’s character and reputation by your criticisms. Rather, become a mirror of the charity of God. To be that mirror of charity, St. James tells us we must be careful how we speak, avoiding all malice, gossip, backbiting and slander. Padre Pio once told a penitent:
"When you gossip about a person it means that you have removed the person from your heart. But be aware, when you remove a man from your heart, Jesus also goes away from your heart with that man."
We have to be so careful when we get angry with our neighbor because it is easy to be overcome by the anger and then cast hell fire on our brother. St. James says:
"The tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. . . set on fire of hell" (James 3.3-6)
By malicious words, or even just by careless, thoughtless words, we sin against the charity of God.
If we notice something in someone that needs correcting, we should not approach the matter with a sanctimonious attitude, with our nose in the air. We have to avoid thinking we are holier than the other person, or judging that we are completely right, and that the other fellow is completely wrong. It is always more complicated than that.
Often when we get angry with our neighbor, we first belittle him in our mind, then we go on a crusade to set him straight, perhaps even embarrass him, humiliate him, and to avenge God in the matter. But St. James says:
"The wrath [and anger] of man [does not achieve] the righteousness of God" (James 1:20).
How many times have each of us done this? In thoughts, words, and deeds, our anger leads us to sin against someone God wants us to love. St. Matthew’s Gospel teaches us,
"Whosoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment" (Mathew 5:22).
Anger deprives a man of prudence, reason, and understanding; it blinds him. The acts of a man under the influence of anger cannot be in harmony with God’s justice. God’s justice is always tempered with His Divine Mercy and always designed to be a healing remedy. If we find ourselves speaking through passion and anger towards our brother, the correction will always be unprofitable.
It is not possible for human weakness to be altogether free from every emotion of anger. All our efforts, therefore, must be directed to the moderation of anger which spring up in the soul from time to time. How are they to be moderated? By meekness. This is called the virtue of the lamb, because, like a lamb, without anger or even complaint, he bore the sorrows of his passion and crucifixion.
Oh! How pleasing in the sight of God are the meek, who submit in peace to all crosses, misfortunes, persecutions, and injuries! To the meek is promised the kingdom of heaven. St. Matthew's tells us what Christ teaches:
"Blessed are the meek, for they shall possess the land...Blessed are the peacemakers; for they shall be called the children of God" (Matthew 5:5, 9).
The virtue of meekness consists in being meek and peaceful towards those who hate and maltreat us. As the psalmist says:
"With them that hated peace I was peaceful" (Ps. 119:7).
We must, as St. Paul says, we must bear one with another:
"Put on ye the bowels of mercy, humility, modesty, patience, bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if any have a complaint against another" (Col 3:12-13).
If you wish others to put up with your defects, and to pardon your faults; you should act in the same manner towards them. Whenever, then, you receive an insult from a person enraged against you, remember what the psalmist says:
"A mild answer breaketh wrath" (Prov. 15:1).
The proud make use of the humiliations they receive to increase their pride; but the humble and the meek turn the contempt and insults offered to them into an occasion of advancing in humility, as St. Bernard teaches:
"He is humble who converts humiliation into humility." (St. Bernard Ser. xxiv. in Can.)