Peace be with you.
Just a few weekends ago, I found myself reflecting on James 3:16—4:3 and I felt like I needed to share something that may shock or upset or possibly even disgust some people. I’m an Iowa State Cyclone fan. I do try to downplay my being a “loyal son forever true”, not because Iowa State sports always seem to underperform expectations or because of any shame I feel because of supporting them. Nor am I doing so because I do sometimes worry that, if Iowa State should somehow miraculously win a football or basketball game against Iowa, there could well be a crowd with pitchforks and torches outside the rectory in Springbrook looking for someone to sacrifice. I’m doing so because I would never want someone to walk away from the church because of my passionate love of Iowa State University.
The reason I felt I needed to share that was because, in the above passage, St. James contrasts the passions with peace. He says the passions are the root of all wars and conflicts, which makes sense when you understand what he means by “the passions”. If something gets broken in your home, aren’t you much more likely to get very angry if it costs a lot of money or if you had a sentimental attachment to it.
This scenario is so common that it’s the basis of several movies and TV shows: the kids break something and then have to figure out how to keep the parents from discovering what was broken while simultaneously trying to figure out how to replace or repair it without their parents finding out. Still, as St. James quite correctly says, our passions are often about what we don’t possess and wish we did. In other words, the things we covet. We may have bagged a sixteen point buck last year that hangs on our wall but we have a neighbor with two twenty point bucks hanging in his man cave and we covet them. Or we may have a nice house but the neighbor two doors down has a bigger and newer and cleaner one. Or we may like our favorite college football team but there’s always a team that is better than us, one that just picks us apart and makes our team look like fools. St. James says, “You covet but do not possess. You kill and envy but you cannot obtain; you fight and wage war. You do not possess because you do not ask. You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”
So, if we shouldn’t waste time asking God to give us our passions, what should we ask God for? St. James says, “But the wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace.” So we’re seeking a harvest of peace. We sow in peace and we harvest in peace. And that peace is Jesus Christ. I would point out, however, that, just as a farmer has to take steps to harvest a good crop, so the person seeking peace must take the steps St. James lays out to harvest a crop of peace. The seed, if you will, for peace starts off being pure and peaceable, gentle, compliant, and full of mercy and good fruits. It doesn’t pick fights for the sake of picking fights. In fact, it may be worth losing a fight if it means not upsetting someone for a foolish reason. It might be all right to let your spouse choose where the thermostat is set even if it means paying a little more or having to put a ceiling fan on. It might be all right to let your kid think he won a board game because you can tell he’s having a bad day and just sort of needs it. And it may be all right to hide away that Iowa State flag so that people don’t avoid coming to church out of fear of what Fr. Dennis is going to say if the Hawkeyes lose to Nebraska. See, everyone tells me I need to tell more jokes in these columns, but I made a good one right there. (Sorry Husker fans!)
The struggle comes, however, with the last two words St. James put into this list of ways to cultivate peace, “without inconstancy or insincerity.”
I think St. James knows there are some things that are worth fighting for and that, while peace is the harvest we all should long for, peace at the expense of truth is cowardice or sloth, not true peace. We have to be a people of constancy and sincerity. We have to hold up the dignity of the human person from natural conception to natural death, whether that person be unborn, an immigrant, or even a murderer.
And we don’t participate in the occult, in things like mediums or psychics or ouija boards or tarot readings, because sincerely trusting in God and God’s will means trusting that God has a plan for us and no one can force it from God. In the end, we seek the peace that only Jesus can provide. Still, I’m guessing each of us has allowed a passion, something unrelated to faith in God, to divide us from a friend or family member. Maybe today is a good day to call them and see if we can set aside our passion and start growing a relationship that will reap a harvest of peace for us.