|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.