05 February 2023

WHY we do good works matters

5th Sunday OT

Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP
St. Albert the Great, Irving

Upon hearing of my interest in Catholicism, my 11th grade English teacher asked me, “Don't you think it's enough just to be a good person?” I asked him what a good person is. He replied, sounding like the prophet, Isaiah, Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them...” I was all of 16, so my response faith was weak: “I think there's more to it than that.” Indeed, there is. A group of folks in Delaware recently to collected blankets, socks, hats, gloves, and canned food for the homeless. They collected donations to help with the medical bills. Another group in Austin set up a permanent organization to fight for religious freedom, human rights, and justice for those marginalized by economic hardship. The organizer of this campaign was quoted in the paper, saying, “I applaud all [those] who engage with their community to help end undue suffering...” Sounds like these folks are doing Good Work. Like typical Catholic parishes. Except they aren't Catholic parishes. Both groups are congregations of The Satanic Temple. And their project is called Satanic Good Works. Is this the kind of good works Isaiah is urging us to do?

Yes...and no. Yes, the good works are good insofar as they help alleviate human suffering. No, b/c these works are done to glorify the Enemy not God. Now, you might ask, “What difference does it make to the homeless if their food comes from Christians or Satanists?” None. Hungry is hungry. Food is food. Atheists, Satanists, humanists can feed the hungry and clothe the naked as well as Christians can. The question here is for the Christians: why are we doing good works? Why did we invent, build, and still maintain universities, hospitals, orphanages, hospices, nursing homes, and schools all over the planet? The why here matters b/c even the enemies of God can do the what. Isaiah lays out our – for lack of a better phrase – social obligations. We call them the corporeal works of mercy. The Gospel tells us that our failure to do these works will see us herded with the goats and thrown into the fire pit on the last day. So, very serious obligations. But is doing these good works enough to see us herded with the sheep and welcomed into heaven? If so, then we can expect to share the Father's table with atheists and Satanists. If not, then what else is necessary? What makes our good works different?

I said before – the why of our work matters. If we do good works for the sake of the work itself, or even for the sake of those we work for, then our work is indistinguishable from the works of the Satanists – as good as it may be. Our work must be done for no other reason than to give glory to God. Any other reason tempts us to pride or self-righteousness. Any other reason gives us reason to think that our work is ours alone. We may be tempted to believe that our work will save us. Or that it's possible to buy a place at the Father's table. Or – perhaps the worst – that our work makes us better than the poor, holier than those we serve. Jesus says that we are the salt of the earth and a light to the world. Our saltiness is not our doing. Neither is our light. Both belong to him alone. We merely participate. And to the degree that we freely participate, giving him the glory for his generosity, we grow in holiness. Our saltiness and light are given to us. And we are charged with passing them on to others in need. This “passing on” is our good work. But the source of our goodness is God alone. By following Isaiah's admonitions, we point to God and reveal His goodness and providence. The whole point is to lead others into a healing relationship with their Creator. When we lose sight of The Why of our good works, we lose sight of who and what we are as freed children of the Father. Jesus says, “...your light must shine before others...” Why? Why must our light shine? “[So] that they may see your good deeds...” Why do others need to see our good deeds? “[So they may] glorify your heavenly Father.”

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