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I go to a lot of meetings as a priest and they are always long. The reason they are lengthy is because we sit on comfortable, cushy chairs. In front of us is a table with bottles of water, a coffee pot, a pad of paper, and a pen with the church logo. Someone at the meeting expresses an idea. I agree and think that is a good idea. I write it down on the pad. Yet, there is always someone who does not like the idea. I then scratch the note off and think how glad I am that we have comfortable chairs because we are going to be here for a while.
When I worked for my father in construction the meetings were extremely short. The reason they were so brief was because we did not sit on comfy chairs. We stood around a piece of plywood that sat on two sawhorses. Dad would point to a huge pile of lumber and say, “Peter, get that up on the second floor.” The meeting would be over.
I mention the two styles of meetings because we see from the second reading for this Sunday that James is a short-meeting type of guy. He tells us that good works come before faith ideas. In order to appreciate this advice, we need to turn to St. Paul, who was also writing letters around the same time. Paul, in his letters, says the opposite. He wrote that faith comes before good works. Apparently, a number of Christians, who read his letters, thought that Paul might be a long-meeting type of guy. We gather together in liturgy and hear wonderful faith ideas. We hear that God is powerful and almighty, One Who conquers sin and evil. We like that idea and accept it. We hear that God is merciful and forgiving. We like that idea as well and believe it. We hear that God has adopted us as sons and daughters and wants to offer us eternal life. We really like that idea and accept it enthusiastically. We accept and believe all of these divine truths and now we can go to Heaven. This is not what Paul is saying. Paul is a short-meeting type of guy, the same as James. Allow me to go back to my short meeting with my father. Just after dad told me to get the lumber up to the second floor, he gave me a pair of work gloves that covered my arms up to the elbows. My hands turned into a forklift. The gloves allowed me to work faster and efficiently. When Paul says that faith comes before good works, he is saying that faith is the pair of work gloves that allows us to get the job done.
What exactly is our job as Christians? We need to keep the commandments. We need to carry our cross daily, forgive one another, and sacrifice for the benefit of others. The list of marching orders is not easy. Just consider patience. It is very hard to be patient in difficult times, especially when we are facing opposition or discouragement. But what if something wonderful happened to you? Suppose you won the megabucks, or just passed the bar exam, or are newly engaged? Patience would be easy for you. Just the same, faith makes it easy for us to do difficult jobs. Faith allows us to be in a constant state of someone who has received something wonderful. Let’s review. We have a job as Christians that is difficult, so put on the pair of gloves that make it easy for us and we will always succeed at our Christian work.Back to All Homilies