Thanks to everybody who took a minute to brag on a special priest, yesterday. While I'm thinking about which of my fatherly influences to tell you about, I'd like to put the spotlight on another father figure who means a lot to me...that recent epistolary contributor to the current cycle of Mass readings, St. James.
The writings of St. James make me very happy that my parents named me according to the tradition of a good old saint name. I rarely think of myself as "James" but it’s a pedigree that shouldn't be neglected.
A word of caution to anybody who starts paying closer attention to the wisdom of his or her saintly namesake: Get ready to feel woefully inadequate. I can’t get through the first chapter of James without self-esteem problems.
James 1:19, “Let every man be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.”
And my Irish ancestors became Catholic how?
James 1:26, “If any one thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this man's religion is vain.”
No self-deception? Sheesh! What a grouch!
James 1:27, "…keep oneself unstained by the world . . . ."
Personally, I can't even keep myself unstained by lunch.
You could spend a lifetime just trying to live up to a single sentence in that first chapter. But there's always chapter two. Right?
James 2:10, “…whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.”
Okay…maybe not. But what about chapter three?
James 3:8, “… no human being can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”
Oh…and just in case the humility message hasn't hit home by the end of chapter three, St. James speaks even more plainly in chapter four:
James 4:14, “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”
“Mist,” he says…we don’t even get to be dust like on Ash Wednesday. Fortunately, Mist Wednesday would never catch on. Priests and extraordinary ministers lining up with atomizers full of holy water would just look silly.
Another truly great thing about James comes at the end. After raising the bar hopelessly higher and higher for five chapters, he offers a word of encouragement to those of us who hope people will learn the truth of Catholicism, and learn it somehow through us.
James 5:19-20, “My brethren, if any one among you wanders from the truth and some one brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”
There’s a lot to be learned from St. James. And his letter may never caught my ear in quite the same way had my parents not given me his name.
Thanks Mom and Dad. May you be with Jesus this day.