As we continue in this Year of Faith, I’ve been thinking a lot about Faith and Works, and how inseparable the two are from each other.
Most often, Christians focus on St. James’s famous “faith without works is dead” quote.
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? (James 2:14)
However, in Pope Benedict’s Apostolic Letter Porta Fidei, he calls us to think about this in the inverse:
Faith without charity bears no fruit, while charity without faith would be a sentiment constantly at the mercy of doubt. Faith and charity each require the other, in such a way that each allows the other to set out along its respective path.
In other words; yes – works are an integral extension of our faith but faith in Christ must come first and remain in us or our works can only be reduced to “good deeds”.
We live in an age of “volunteerism” where it’s now trendy and hip to perform Random Acts of Kindness (ROA’s), add a donation to a local charity at the checkout line, and tear down houses and build new ones for a deserving family.
These actions are good, in and of themselves, and indeed many well-deserving individuals and families have been helped through this increased spirit of ‘giving’ and, likewise, many have learned how to be more generous.
Yet, at the same time, something seems to be…missing. In some ways, it’s almost as if the whole “sharing and doing good things for other people” has become another empty commodity, political selling point, and social obligation.
On the outside, it looks good – which is why it sells – but it diverts and blocks us from the whole purpose – an authentic encounter and telos in Christ. There’s also a certain emptiness on the inside if these works, these acts of charity and love, do not come from Faith in Christ first and foremost. It’s like giving someone an Oreo with the cream filling licked out of it.
Aside from that important point, another problem arises: who are we if we only define ourselves by what we do? And what happens to us if we stop or cannot continue doing? Have our works replaced our Faith? In our God-less society, it can seem so.
Jonathan Ghaly wrote about this “works without faith” dilemma exceptionally well in his article, ‘There is something that comes before’: what faith and the Year of Faith are not.
While all of these efforts [“mastering the virtues,” missionary work, evangelization, and becoming holy] are good and noble, I find it fascinating how when we as Catholics hear the word “faith,” we immediately jump to its consequences: good works, the moral life, and evangelization…
…These things come out of the experience of faith, but they are not “faith.” There are many altruists, social workers and virtuous people who are not Christian in the world. There is “something that comes before” these works, out of which flow these works, and that “something that comes before” is precisely the event of faith. All else, including how we think and live, flows out of our experience of faith…
…As we know, reducing faith to all our virtue and vice, feelings, works, and knowledge (essentially: moralism, sentimentalism, voluntarism, and orthodoxism, respectively) sooner or later becomes unsustainable for our lives, and leads to our boredom, doubt, emptiness, and in fact a widening distance from Christ, which we quietly try to ignore; and all this in the midst of “practicing” our faith.
In our quest to live out our Faith, we have forgotten what, or more accurately, Who, our faith is in. Catholics, and especially those looking in from the outside, like to talk about what Catholics do or don’t do and what we are allowed and not allowed to do. But, as Ghaly and the Holy Father point out, this is not what being Catholic is about – it’s about our faith and love in Jesus Christ.
Our Holy Father calls us to take a step back from all the doing and remember Who and what we believe.
The Year of Faith, from this perspective, is a summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the one Saviour of the world…
…In rediscovering his love day by day, the missionary commitment of believers attains force and vigour that can never fade away. Faith grows when it is lived as an experience of love received and when it is communicated as an experience of grace and joy. It makes us fruitful, because it expands our hearts in hope and enables us to bear life-giving witness…
…It is faith that enables us to recognize Christ and it is his love that impels us to assist him whenever he becomes our neighbor along the journey of life…
…may this Year of Faith make our relationship with Christ the Lord increasingly firm, since only in him is there the certitude for looking to the future and the guarantee of an authentic and lasting love. (Porta Fidei)
Copyright 2013 Erika Higgins