Sunday, March 10, 2013

St. James Answers Gollum

Lately I've been answering questions posed to me by a Protestant reader of this blog, and this time I'm going to let the Apostle James answer a question that no reader of this blog has posed to me, but that many of you could; in fact I could post it myself.

My hypothetical reader writes ...
Why can't I follow Christ and do what I want?  I mean, I really really really am attached to my sins.  I'd like to believe they're not really sins, but I know better.  My sins scratch me right where I itch.  I pray to be delivered of them, but secretly I love them.  I mean, what the hell would I do without my sins??? They are my preciousssss - Signed, Gollum.
And St. James replies ...
Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. - James 4:8
Our first prayer, then, should be to become "single minded" about following Christ; which is to say, not to be ambivalent about sin.  Hard to do, and maybe never totally achievable in this lifetime - and certainly not achievable at all without His grace.  But look more closely at the context in which St. James places this admonition.  (My gloss is in red.)  From James Chapter 4 ...

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God.   3When you ask, you do not receive,because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.  God is not our gumball machine - put a prayer in here, get a gumball out there, chew and enjoy.  God wants us to enter into a dialogue with Him (prayer), but not so that we may find in Him a better gimmick to fill our wants, a longer stick with which to scratch that itch.  For the shallow notion of God as itch scratcher, see here 
You adulterous people,[a] Adulterous?  Because we're not faithful to our marriage-bond with God.  don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God?  A bit harsh there, St. James, wouldn't you say?  Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. This is not as harsh as it sounds; it is not a denial of the goodness of God's created world; this is not Eastern mysticism.  This is simply saying that you cannot serve two masters - God and Mammon (Mammon being riches, pleasures, fame, possessions, your drug-of-choice - i.e. "the world") Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us[b]? 6  But he gives us more grace. If we need help to serve Him, and not just a new fix, he'll give us more grace.  That is why Scripture says:
“God opposes the proud
    but shows favor to the humble.”[c] 
7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. What an amazing thing to say!!!  Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.  In other words, repent and have a "firm purpose of amendment" as the Catholic Church says, doing our best (by His grace) to avoid not only sin, but also near occasions of sin - thus being of one mind, with purity of heart (purity of intention).  9 Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Whoa!  What is this, Lent or something?  You mean we're not only to set our hearts and minds on God with a single-minded purity of love and intention, but also to bemoan our sinful state and feel sorry enough and guilty enough that we become really serious about not sinning again???  This grieving, moaning and wailing part - can we not bracket it out when this reading appears in the Liturgy?  It's just too disturbing! - Well, I'm joking, but it should hit us and hit us hard, double-minded sinners that we are, with hearts of grave impurity. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

And that last part - "Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up" - that is exactly what Jesus told us in yesterday's readings, "He who humbles himself will be exalted" - (Luke 14:11) - and it's not at all what The Word Among Us told us about yesterday's readings, which was, more or less, "Don't change and God will be fine with you."

No, dear Gollum, the steps go like this

  • Stop asking God for stuff that merely scratches your itch.
  • Ask for His grace, that you may approach Him with clean hands, a single mind and a pure heart.
  • Feel bad about the monster sin is making you into and do penance for it, so that, at the very least, you will be serious about amendment, about the change He will work in you, if you let Him.

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