Written by Sr. Rosemary Finnegan O.P.
The author of today's first reading is believed by many to be James, who became the first bishop of Jerusalem after the apostles left there. He is described as a preacher who is encouraging his listeners to lead moral lives, emphasizing that faith must express itself in good works. James’s letter covers a wide range of topics and because he’s blunt, it’s hard not to miss his point. His letter reads like a collection of pithy proverbs and is sometimes called “the Proverbs of the New Testament.” He provides practical advice for how wise people ought to live, speaks with authority and tells us clearly how we should act in 54 direct commands altogether.
Today we heard 10 of them. They include that beautiful thought: “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” These 10 directives are telling us HOW to act as children of God, HOW to draw near to God. James says: submit, resist, cleanse, purify, lament, mourn, weep, change, be humble. He is telling us unless we do these actions, we could easily drift away from God if we’re not careful.
Unfortunately, as we know, many people today don’t feel God’s presence. I’m sure some of us have also had thoughts like: “I just don’t feel close to God right now.” Or “God doesn’t seem very real to me right now”.
When we do begin to doubt God’s presence, we need to come back to today’s Scripture: “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.”
St. Rita, whose feast is today, was the patron saint of my parish church when I was growing up. We learned about her life, and reflecting on that now, I think she is the perfect example of what James is teaching today. She endured many hardships, including an abusive husband who repented before he died because of her prayers, the death of her two sons, and her physical illnesses. Through it all, she never lost faith in God and remained close to God.
Like St. Rita, we ‘draw near’ precisely by calling upon our gift of faith:
- faith in God’s promises and confidence that God will keep his promises,
- faith to believe that God’s presence is revealed in Jesus who promised to be with us always, and
- faith to call upon the Spirit for help and guidance in our desert times.
Draw near to God by faith, through our Lord and with the power of the Holy Spirit, and God will draw near to you.