Twenty-fifth Sunday B 2009
Beloved: Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice. … Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from?
Is it not from your passions that make war within your members? (James 3:16, 4:1)
What is the cause of disorder in society, and all the foul practices of any society. The Apostle James does not hesitate to identify the true roots of all the disorder and evil in human society: the roots are jealousy, selfishness, ambition, unbridled human passions, covetousness, and envy in the human heart. In other words, the roots of the external evils in every society are found not primarily in institutions but in the hearts of men and women. Economic, governmental, and social institutions may indeed contribute to such evils, but that is because they are themselves corrupted by the sins and sinful attitudes that flow from the hearts of mankind. This is the wisdom of the Church as expressed by the Apostle James, St. Peter, St. Paul, and the other Apostles who are simply transmitting the teaching of their divine Master.
Recall the profound moral teaching of Jesus, that all external evils or sins, violence, lust, murder, all begin in the human heart: “For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. 20These are what defile a person..” [Matt. 15:19] His teaching was a challenge to every view of morality that focuses solely on the external act itself or the external causes that may prompt the evil act. The roots of all external evils in our world are found ultimately in the human heart, in man’s uncontrolled passions and desires, and there is no remedy for such evils simply in laws or treaties or better institutions, as important as these may be.
In truth, laws do not make men good, not even the Law revealed by God, for the law at best can only point us to the good and condemn evil acts. Treaties are only as good as the intentions of leaders and the self-control of the citizens of nations and their leaders. The same is true of institutions set up by man, The only true remedy for evil is conversion in the heart of man and God’s grace. We have volumes of good laws and we still have tremendous crime and violence in our society; we have an abundance of treaties and institutions which have been created to secure peace and justice, and the world is still plagued with wars and tremendous injustices.
Indeed James suggests this truth even regarding the causes of wars:
Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from?
Is it not from your passions that make war within your members?
You covet but do not possess. You kill and envy but you cannot obtain;
you fight and wage war.
Of course, James is speaking directly here about the “wars” that rage in the human heart (passions that make war within your members), but then he moves outward to the life of society (You covet but do not possess. You kill and envy but you cannot obtain, and he seems to extend this analysis to the evil that affects the world (you fight and wage war). Individuals lose control of their passions, but so do societies; individuals covet and envy but so do nations, coveting the goods of other nations and envying the well being of other nations. Evil has its roots in individual human hearts, extends its tentacles to the broader society and end up setting people and peoples against each other causing the waging of wars.
One may wonder why Jesus seemed to avoid any involvement with or confrontation with the political order of his day. His Church would not be spared this involvement down the ages; The Church is an institution in this world and is necessarily involved with worldly powers. The Church, at a minimum, must necessarily dialogue with the powers of this world. She must defend not simply her own legal standing and freedom in society but must defend the human rights of all God’s children, the right to life, to religious freedom, to participate in the basic human goods necessary for a dignified existence in this world.
But Jesus carefully avoided all such confrontations and entanglements. He did so to make clear that his mission was not directly connected with changing the political or economic orders or with reforming other worldly institutions. His mission was to redeem mankind and change human hearts, their interior re-formation, that is, interior renewal, destroying the roots of sin that generate the evils in human actions and in this way affecting the actions of worldly powers. Only such re-formed men and women can make a real difference, can be made capable of reforming their society in any lasting and authentic manner.
Christians must partake in the political, social and economic processes to make them what they should be to truly serve man’s well being and not do harm to man. But they must understand what is required first of all for them to make any genuine contribution to their society. Christians must undergo the purification and conversion of their own souls which always entails the Cross of Jesus. Interior renewal cannot take place without suffering, and that is what is meant by the Cross. I must, with God’s grace and by embracing the cross, root out my own sinful tendencies, my own jealousy, my own selfish ambition, my own envy, my own covetous desires, my own lust – what we call the capital sins or roots of sin. Thus, if a Christian is motivated by selfish ambition or pride in entering political office or service in an economic enterprise or whatever form of public service, then the Christian will end up part of the problem, not part of the solution to the ills that affect our society.
The same truth can be applied at that level of the human society we call the family. If personal ambition or coveting more and more material goods is the chief motive behind the work of a parent, rather than service of his or her family, then the family is in trouble. If jealousy and envy get in between spouses, the marriage is in trouble. If self-centeredness is not corrected, first of in the parents, then the whole family suffers. If lust is not put to death, the marriage cannot grow and likely will not survive. Family breakup, a tremendous social problem in our society is not simply the result of bad laws or bad economic times. The roots are found in the human heart, not simply in external factors.
So we Christians know by faith that the true cause of evil in society, of wars, of violence of all kinds is sin found in the individual human heart. Unless men change their hearts, there will be no end or even lessening of evil and its consequences in our world.
Thus the greatest need that the world has today, as always, is faith in Jesus Christ, in the truth of the Gospel and in the grace He communicates to us through the Spirit and His sacraments. Christ is the only genuine hope for peace, as the verses of a century old hymn states beautifully:
Christ is the world’s peace, He and none other
No man can serve him and despise his brother
He and none other is the source of true and lasting peace in this world filled with man’s evils. That is the truth, and Christians must be unswerving in proclaiming this to the world. In the last century, there was great loss of faith in God and His Son, the Prince of Peace. As result another prince arose, the prince of darkness, that prince inspired godless ideologies that through war and the most vicious persecution exterminated the lives of tens of millions, likely far more than a hundred million people Europe, Russia and China alone.
In our time, that loss of faith continues and we see the result in the death of millions of innocent children in the womb, perhaps hundreds of millions over the last half century. And at the same time, we see another threat to world peace arise in a religion that worships its God in part as a God of revenge and war against infidels, which means most of the world in the eyes of many of His worshipers. The unbelieving western world and even many Christian believers have a difficult time recognizing this new but ancient threat to world peace and order. Islam is especially dangerous because it pays honor to Christ only by denying that He is the Son of God, and thus the Prince of Peace. Peace in Islam means only subjection to Allah and His Prophet, and this subjection ultimately calls for war against the infidels and their subjection. They may not be forced to believe, but they will be forced into subjection. It is a formula for unending war in a modern world that no longer will tolerate such subjection for long. We see this in the Middle East today as dominating Muslims fight subjected Muslims.
Christ alone is the world’s peace, because he is the sole source of genuine interior conversion, a true change of heart that leads to respect for all human life, and forbids hatred of any human being since all are my brothers, because the Father of Jesus Christ calls all mankind to become sons of God in the Son of God. All men are brothers by virtue of their creation by God, by their likeness to God in their souls which God alone creates, and most wonderfully by their actually being adopted in Christ as sons and daughters sharing God’s nature and love. So in Him and none other do we find salvation and peace, for in Him we find God our brother, and God our Father, and God the Spirit, who makes us one with God and one with each other, no longer enemies, but brothers and sisters in the Lord. May Jesus find faith in our world, and may our world find salvation and peace in Jesus our Lord and our savior. Amen