Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

James and Ita and Pure Religion

The holy Apostle James

We say many things about religion. Some of what we say can be a source of tremendous division, sadness and pain - like the people who use religion to promote terrorist violence or who think their religion has a corner on the truth, which at once sets everyone else up as an adversary.

On a recent Sunday at Mass we heard Saint James' write about religion:
"Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world."

Religion is about taking care of the most vulnerable people. Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity have orphanages all throughout the poor world. There are lots of orphans because there are lots of wars, lots of addiction, lots of poverty. So the sisters invite comfortable North American women to come to an orphanage for a week or two just to handle infants.

The sisters know that leaving an infant in a crib all day without communication and touch prevents the child's brain from developing. So these generous ladies go to hold the babies, play with the babies, talk with the babies. One day Mother came through a room filled with women sitting in rocking chairs, holding babies and having a good gab about many things. Just short of scolding, Mother reminded them that they had traveled a great distance not simply to hold infants but to move them, bounce them, laugh with them, coo to them, sing to them, rock them, play with them.

The Christian Foundation for Children and the Elderly says that lots of people are eager to fund programs that care for abandoned kids, but the problem of elderly folks being abandoned is even more serious. Taking care of the most vulnerable: that's pure religion. 

And finally James writes that pure religion is keeping yourself unstained by the world. When I was a boy the only stains and spots we concerned ourselves with were of a sexual kind: "dirty thoughts, words and deeds." I'd suggest the following are far more dangerous and nasty stains: power, greed, lies, pride, willful ignorance and mediocrity.

Sixth century Irish Abbess of Killeedy, Saint Ita, gives us her own simple insights into what constitutes pure religion. Saint Brendan asked Ita what the three things are that most please God and the three things most dis-pleasing to God. Her plain-spoken answer might surprise. Ita said:

The three things that please God most are:
  • true faith in God with a pure heart,
  • a simple life with a grateful spirit,
  • and generosity inspired by love.

The three things that most displease God are:
  • a mouth that hates people,
  • a heart harboring resentments,
  • and confidence in wealth.


  1. My spirit is grateful and I pray for a clean heart. Amen.

  2. I sometimes wonder if this is enough. What about everything else we have learned along the way?

  3. "Keep it simple" AA says. Somehow we can't handle "it" unless it's complicated and layered. One traditionalist priest wrote, "You really can't understand Catholicism unless you understand metaphysics". What the...!? I had to check my spelling of metaphysics. I'd venture I've visited over a thousand churches in my life. Very many are over-decorated. I wonder if we don't do that with the faith itself. Too much! The little bit that St. James writes and the little bit that Ita offers - if we made just that our focus and really milked their sayings for everything we can possibly get from them.... What a challenge? I think many of us would translate James' and Ita's injunctions to just "be nice." We either over-decorate or pitifully reduce and minimize. I personally see the verse from James and Ita's insights as more than I could hope to accomplish in the time I have left on this planet. Thanks for writing - your wondering and question invites us to look more deeply.

    1. A good challenge for us all. May we all strive to it. Well said Father.

  4. We should all want to help one another. To want to live by each other's happiness, not by each other's misery.

  5. I am grateful for this post. It makes sense. Why would God put heavy demands on us. He sees the suffering we face each day, the confusion. the temptations. These Saints suggestions do make it simple. Why would God want us to worry all the time about how to please Him. We go to the Eucharist pure and simple and then there is prayer. It is hard to understand though, the plight of all these refugees.

  6. That's right, God doesn't lay heavy burdens on us. And the plight of the refugees - yes. Some countries are taking in enormous numbers of people: Germany, Italy, Austria, France, Greece, UK.
    "When I was homeless, you welcomed me." Matthew 25