(If we were “getting together” for this Bible Study, the guide says that we should read the Points to Ponder out loud and together. So I have put it here in its entirety for you to read and reflect upon. I also will keep repeating the Memory Verse until the end of Study One, so that we can memorize it. God bless you!)
James 1: 2-4 “Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
What is the Catholic Teaching on Redemptive Suffering?
(James 1: 1-8 @ Home with the Word-Study 1 pgs. 2-3)
“In coming to grips with suffering, a Catholic should bear in mind both James 1:2 (“count it all ;joy, my brethren when you meet various trials”) and verse 17 (“Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”) Because we have this eternal Father, we can have an eternal perspective that arises from the eternal goal that awaits us. That alone not only makes sense out of our suffering, it turns our sufferings into something with redemptive power. That is absolutely novel and revolutionary in human history! Nothing else before or after Christianity has really grasped that suffering can be redemptive. To be sure, the acorn is already present in pre-Christian Judaism and is starting to sprout, but only really takes root and bears fruit in the Tree upon which Christ hung. The audience to which James wrote was facing two tendencies in pagan thought. One the one hand was Stoicism, which said ‘Keep a stiff upper lip, bear suffering with a straight face’ but which never thought for a moment to ‘count it all joy.’ On the other had, another pagan school of thought was Platonism which considered the body as a sort of prison for the soul and so could, at times, ‘rejoice’ at the suffering of the body because it was a kind of death knell for the jailer. Both pagan thought systems had a germ of truth, but both were mixed with tremendous error as well. The Stoic was right to say we have to bear it, but he couldn’t explain why we could possibly count it joy. The Platonist was right to look upon the body as a temporary dwelling, but wrong to think the goal of life was to become disembodied. He did not know about the Resurrection. And so he thought the body was bad, whereas, in reality, it is the second-highest good. That is why we are called, like Jesus, to offer our bodies as living sacrifices (Romans 12: 1). There is no point to offering garbage as sacrifice, only that which is best. And you offer that which is best to show there is One you prefer even more.
So how do we offer our suffering to God? In different ways. If we’re suffering illness, we recognize our own human affliction and weakness. Certainly, we seek treatment, but in the meantime we grow in patience through endurance, knowing that even these suffering can be united with Jesus on the cross. If sufferings are due to persecution for righteousness’ sake, that’s pure gold without any dross. That is, we can can thank God that he has honored us to share in Christ’s own sufferings. On the other hand, if our suffering is due to punishment for sin, even those can be united to Christ as we see the Good Thief crucified with Jesus did with his sufferings. In addition, it should be noted that some of the most intense forms of suffering are not physical but spiritual. James, for instance, gives no hint that he’s speaking to a persecuted church. Rather, he addresses his consolations to poor Christians being exploited by the rich (many of whom appear to be Christian themselves). Also, there is the intense suffering, not of dying ourselves, but watching a loved one die as Mary had to watch Christ die. To bear such suffering, or to bear the betrayal of friends whom we trusted as Jesus bore betrayal and abandonment by his disciples is to be very close to the Spirit of Christ. The bottom line is: there is no realm of human suffering outside of Christ. Some forms of suffering are most perfectly Christlike, but every form of suffering is, in some way, able to draw us closer to Christ.”
Trials and Temptations
(James 1: 1-8 @ Home with the Word-Study 1 pg. 3)
“Are trials from God and temptations from concupiscence? To answer that, we need to know what is ‘concupiscence.’ The CCC (para 1264) tells us that, though baptism removes original sin, nonetheless ‘certain temporal consequences of sin remain in the baptized such as suffering, illness, death, and such frailties inherent in life as weaknesses of character, and so, as well as an inclination to sin that Tradition calls concupiscence, or metaphorically, the tinder for sin (fomes peccati); since concupiscence is left for us to wrestle with, it cannot harm those who do not consent but manfully resist it by the grace of Jesus Christ. [Council of Trent (1546): DS 1515.] We may say that trials are from God and temptations are from concupiscence.
Interestingly, the same word in Greek (peirasmos) is used for both ‘trial’ and ‘temptation.’ A trial is an external test. A temptation is an internal test. The same word is used in James 1:2 and then again in James 1: 12-13. We have to recognize the different meanings from the context. In verse 2, we are told that the testing of our faith produces steadfastness. So it involves endurance, perseverance, patience and courage. It’s like a muscle workout for the soul, making healthy muscles even stronger. In contrast, the internal test we undergo due to our own weakness is what is described in verses 12 and 13. James relates this passage back to verse 2 and says, ‘Blessed is the man who endures trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life.’ But then he goes on in verse 13 to say, ‘let no one say when he is tempted, I am tempted by God; for God cannot be tempted with evil and he himself tempts no one; but each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.’ So, on one hand, we are exalted by trial yet humbled by temptation. Whenever these disordered desires arise in our hearts, we should take a good long look in the mirror (described by James as the ‘perfect law of liberty’ in verses 23-25) and repent. So, in temptation, we endure suffering, not like athletes at the gym, but as sick people going through physical therapy. Yet both have their place in God’s plan to do us good.”
Next time: Rome to Home, The CCC Connection, and Family Devotions
@Home Work: How can we put James 1: 1-8 in practice in our lives?