The command that opens our reading from the Letter of James today seems so simple:
Show no partiality
I've been a pastor now for 20 years and in every parish there have been those who believe that they should be given some special consideration either because they give more money than others, or more often because they have been in the parish longer.
Try telling people that the baby baptized last Sunday, the 19 year old who just moved into the parish and the person whose family has been in the parish for four generations are equal members of the parish, and see what reaction you get. And if you really want to get a look of surprise try telling some parish staffs that in the Code of Canon Law there is no such thing as registration. Simply by moving into a parish with the intention of staying 3 months you acquire what we call a quasi-domicile and if you have the intention of staying 5 years, you have a domicile. In plain English, you are member for the parish.
There are no degrees or levels of membership in the Catholic Church. By virtue of baptism you are a member of the Church, and every member of the Church has a Bishop and a Pastor who is responsible for their pastoral care.
That's the law of the Church, but how hard it is to live this on a day to day basis. Even if you look at who we help. There is a tendency to want to provide more help to parishioners than to those who are just poor people in the neighborhood.
We will always feel differently about people we know vs. people we don't. The challenge that St. James puts before us is in our actions to be able to move beyond our feelings.
Our faith teaches the equal dignity of every human life from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death. It is a very simple truth. We can easily get caught up in the big issues like abortion or the death penalty, but St. James brings it much closer to the day to day life of each of us.
Can I today treat every person with equal dignity regardless of who they are?