"St. James illustrates for us two paths of spirituality that we must keep in balance."
Two monks were traveling through a forest on foot, making their way back to their monastery. Recent rains had made the rivers and streams swollen with fast moving currents.
As they approached one such stream they saw a woman standing at the bank. She asked the monks if they could help her cross the stream. Now the rule of this particular order prohibited the monks from having any contact with women. The first monk would not even respond to the woman, he just forded the stream on his own and stood on the opposite bank waiting for his companion.
The second waited a moment then simply shrugged and offered to carry the woman across the stream on his back. When they had crossed the stream the woman thanked the monk profusely and went on her way.
The first monk was incredulous that his brother had broken the rule of the order and for many miles thereafter it was all he could talk about. He talked about the reasons for the rule, the implications of breaking it, the disapproval of the abbot and the likely punishment waiting for the second monk.
Finally the second monk stopped walking and turned to the first monk.
“Brother,” he said. “I put the woman down miles ago, but you are still carrying her.”
Christians are advised to be in the world but not of the world. How do we do this?
“Care for orphans and widows in their affliction and… keep oneself unstained by the world.” (James 1:27)
St. James illustrates for us two paths of spirituality that we must keep in balance. On the one hand we should involve ourselves in our world to help our brothers and sisters in need, whether that need is physical, emotional, or spiritual. On the other hand we are to keep ourselves unstained by the world, and the many temptations it offers us on a daily basis. As one Act of Contrition puts it, we must avoid the near occasion of sin.
It is this avoidance of sin, of keeping ourselves unstained by the world that is the more difficult precept. We run the risk of cutting ourselves off from the world and avoiding those people who most need our help.
The Pharisees practiced this doctrine of avoidance, taking it to an extreme. They cared less about eating with unwashed hands than they did about scrupulously following the laws that separated them from the gentiles whom they saw as a source of corruption. But Jesus swept away this hypocrisy. “Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person.” (Mark 7:15)
Are there people we avoid because we see them as sinners and do not want to be associated with them? How then can we claim to be followers of Christ, “friend of tax collectors and sinners?” (Matthew 11:9) Our challenge is to reach out to those in need. We need not fear being defiled unless we already carry that defilement in our hearts.
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
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© Lawrence Klimecki
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Deacon Lawrence draws on ancient Christian tradition to create new contemporary art that seeks to connect the physical and the spiritual.. For more information on original art, prints and commissions, Please visit www.DeaconLawrence.org
Lawrence Klimecki, MSA, is a deacon in the Diocese of Sacramento. He is a public speaker, writer, and artist, reflecting on the intersection of art and faith