St Philip and St James

Apostles, (entered heaven in the first century)

Dear Jim,

The intellectual life is important, especially for someone like yourself, who has received so much talent in that area.  But for a Christian, it is not life’s be-all and end-all.  Remember, we are at war.  Christ is establishing his Kingdom, and the Devil is trying to frustrate that.  The intellectual life has to be put at the service of the Kingdom, just like everything else.  “If you do not gather with me, you scatter” our Lord pointed out.

To keep you from falling into self-satisfied, judgmental, arrogant, and sterile intellectual self-stimulation, I think you should contemplate the example of the Apostles.  They were Christ’s great deputies, and although they were smart, they always kept their feet on the ground.  Take today’s saints for example.

In the fourth Gospel we get to know Philip pretty well.  Remember when he first meets Jesus and our Lord invites him, “Follow me”?  Then he goes to Nathaniel to tell him that he’s found the Messiah.  Nathaniel doesn’t believe him, and Philip responds with the simplest, most appropriate answer an apostle can give: “Come and see.”  That shows a potent combination of good theology, common sense and a lot of faith.  Of course, it ended up killing him in the end – after spreading the gospel in northern Syria he was crucified upside down by the Romans, martyred just like all other Apostles (except for John, of course).

James (this one is not John’s brother, but the son of Alpheus, a relative of Jesus, called “James the Lesser”) was the same way: well-balanced, matter-of-fact, straightforward, no-nonsense.  After Christ ascended into heaven, St James took charge of the Church in Jerusalem, and under him the Christian ranks swelled so quickly that the authorities stoned him to death in front of the Temple to try and stave off further growth.

He was called “James the Just” by the early Christians.  He has some of my favorite lines in the Bible.  In his letter he writes: “Faith without works is dead.” (James 2:17)  Pretty clear, isn’t it?  And then, “Nobody who fails to keep a tight rein on the tongue can claim to be religious; this is mere self-deception; that person’s religion is worthless.”  (James 1:26)  That’s no pie-in-the-sky, touchy-feely spiritual sedative; that’s gritty theology custom-designed for real life.

I know this kind of practical faith is less comfortable for you than the airy theological and philosophical discussions you like to engage in at the coffee house.  And don’t misunderstand me; those discussions are perfectly fine (and can bear lasting fruit).  I’m just worried that you may get seduced by the pleasures of the intellectual life, and unplug from the more strenuous work of loving Christ with “all your heart, soul, mind, and strength”, as the Gospels put it.  I hope you prove me wrong.

Count on my prayers,

Uncle Eddy

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