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from fathers desk

My Dear Friends,

I have really enjoyed your comments and insights related to our current Message Series, Heart Matters. In the first week after Mass, someone said that they had never heard that our faith is not all about coming to Mass. In the homily I had said that our worship should change our lives. Our primary calling is to live the Gospel in the world, really to be living Gospels (as one author expressed holiness.)

Sometimes historically it has seemed that as Catholics we were comfortable just coming to Mass. If we missed Mass, we needed to go to Confession, and if we came to Mass unless we robbed a bank - we were “good” for the week. A certain strain of 20th century Catholicism seems to have held to that. Yet Mass is not the end or goal, but the beginning. We gather for worship because it is what is due our God. It is just and fitting for his creatures to comply with his just commandment. But the command is for us, for our benefit. God mandates our attendance so we can gather, worship and be fed, leaving refreshed in order to live out the Gospel in the world. Church is an oasis, a place of refreshment God knows we need to make it through the week. Otherwise, we will die in the desert of the world.

That was my point. Our participation in the holy Mass assists us to live our Christian existence more deeply, richly, truly. From the grace of this refreshment we can be “doers of the word, not hearers only.” We “adhere to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ.” And this week, we can make evident our faith through our works.

Our section (James 2:14-26) of the Letter this week caused quite a stir, historically. Not early on, but during the sixteenth century, Martin Luther placed the letter, among others at the end of his New Testament translation, calling it an epistle of straw. Luther questioned the authority of the text since he could not integrate the text with his interpretation of the Pauline literature with regard to justification. James was relegated to a lower tier by some, precisely due to our passage today and the assertion: “faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (Jas 2:17) Or perhaps we might prefer James’ blunt manner, “Do you want proof, you ignoramus, that faith without works is useless?” (Jas 2:20). Bishop James goes on to relate how Abraham and Rahab lived out their faith through good works.

His logic is in perfect accord with where we began “Be doers of the word, not hearers only,” but it is crucial to pay attention to how faith begins. So we do not hold that works generate faith, or that we receive the grace of faith because of some work we have done; God rewarding our goodness. All goodness begins with God. All grace is a gift freely given by him. Faith is a grace, a gift. We can cooperate with faith, to open our hearts to receive it, but that cooperation itself is a gift from God. (See Joint Declaration on Justification for more details)

Now once we have received the gift of faith, it is up to us to continue to cooperate with God’s grace and manifest our faith in action. Just as a fire needs fuel to remain hot, or our muscles need to be exercised to continue to be strong, so too our faith requires that we live it out in our works. Hence, the gift of faith can die in someone who fails to practice our faith. And that is what James writes against, a complacent faith, an inactive faith, a couch-potato faith.

Turn to the Corporal Works of Mercy for ideas on how to live out your faith this week. We might begin by being sure to bring food to support the Maple Shade Food Bank!

In Christ,

Fr. Joel Wilson