28 June 2012

Faith + Works = Holiness

St. Irenaeus
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Not everyone who says, “'Lord, Lord' will enter the Kingdom of heaven.” Not everyone who attends daily Mass, recites the rosary, belongs to the altar guild, or serves as a communion minister will enter the Kingdom. Not everyone who wears a scapular, prays the Daily Office, gives lots of money to the Church, or wears a religious habit will enter the Kingdom. But Lord, didn't we follow the rules, keep our noses more or less clean, vote for the right politicians, and stayed awake during the Sunday homilies? But Lord, didn't we help out at the homeless shelter, pray in front of the abortion clinic, report liturgical abuses, and wash the altar linens? I solemnly declare to you, “I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.” Evildoers?! OK, maybe we weren't the holiest Catholics in the parish. . .but we never did evil! How can you call us “evildoers”? Your good works were built on the sands of publicity not on the rock solid foundation of conversion, repentance, fraternal love, and a commitment to the pursuit of holiness. Even an evildoer will perform good works if he thinks that doing so will make him look good. What an evildoer will not do is turn to the Lord in love and beg to be transformed! 

What we have in our gospel reading this evening is the classic problem of figuring out how to balance Works with Faith. Historically, Catholics have favored good works over faith, believing that good works can only come from a faithful soul. Protestants have tended to favor faith over good works, believing that a faithful soul will perform good works. Catholics want to see faith working in the world. Protestants want to see works grounded in faith. We know—as do our Protestant brothers and sisters—that ultimately both faith and works are required for holiness. Where we place the emphasis, however, very often determines how fervently we believe and how hard we work. What does Jesus want from us as his disciples? He wants both fervent faith and hard work. He wants it all; or rather, he wants all of us. All of each one of us. He wants us to cry out, “Lord, Lord!” and he wants us to care for the least of his among us. He wants us to love deeply, passionately, and without limits. And he wants that love to manifest in the world through our words, thought, deeds, and emotions. In other words, he wants us to come to him with a whole heart and a whole mind, undivided, and sharply focused on both speaking his Word and doing his Word. Faith without works is useless. Works without faith is empty

Our rock solid foundation for balancing faith and works is the prophetic witness of Christ himself, “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.” We know the importance of a solid foundation! And maybe a few feet of elevation as well. When the hurricanes come, we want our homes to stand up to the might of the storm. Likewise with our pursuit of holiness. The stronger our foundation in faith, the tougher our witness will be when the storm hits. Good works performed for show are easily washed away. Faith kept hidden away will not be missed. So, the question is: why do we perform the good works we do? How do we show our faith? If we are working in the world for the greater glory of God, then our works naturally demonstrate a profound faith. However, a profound faith kept private can never be a proper witness. If you will give the Lord all that he wants, you will give him all you have and are—heart, mind, body, soul, everything that was first given to you. 

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1 comment:

  1. There is some really good stuff here, but it took alot of energy to read it - first paragraph didn't really do anything for me. You built energy in the 2nd, and then hit a home run in, the 3rd paragraph. I think perhaps this one was probably easier to hear than to read. Lots of good bits that could be verbally sewn together, but took more to read than I had in me tonight :-). (But, yes, it is better than yesterday's!)