For the past few days, St. Paul has been using the character of Abraham to illustrate his point that we are saved by faith. Some will recognize that this notion has been a thorn in the side of all who engage in discussions with Protestant Christians who claim that Catholics don’t believe in this doctrine. In the fifteenth century when the Protestant Reformation was just beginning, both sides engaged in reactionary behavior, drive a wedge between various Christians and creating a festering wound that has been a long time healing. The very name “Protestant” signifies that those on that side of the argument were “protesting” against the Catholic Church on this point.
While that protest lies in the dust of time, some still cling to the belief (on both sides of the argument) that Catholic believe that we can merit salvation through good works. This is simply not true. Neither is the postulate true nor is the belief that the Catholic Church teaches this. The writings of St. Paul as well as the Gospels are very clear. In the synoptic Gospels, Jesus tells many who benefitted from his kindness that their faith has saved them. St. John’s Gospel was written so that we could come to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and that through that belief we could be saved.
The children of Israel believed that adherence to the Law would save them. However, all of us know that try as we might, we are never 100% successful in living according to the commandments. We are sinners. Each and every one of us has been on the wrong side of the law at many and various points of our lives. If we were to stand before God, our judge, both our plea and the verdict would be “Guilty as charged.” However, God has sent his Son among us to die for our sins, to accept the punishment for our disobedience. So even though we are guilty, the sentence has already been paid and we are set free from our sins by the death and resurrection of Jesus. All who place their faith in Jesus are assured of this through St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans as well as the Gospels themselves.
So where do good works fit into the scheme of things. Good works are our way of saying “thank you” to God for the gift of the faith that saves us. Without those good works, our faith would be hollow and empty. We do good things because we love God. We love God because God has saved us. Grateful people show their love in concrete actions. So while we believe that we are saved by faith, we also believe that we are called upon to do good works in order to show the world that we believe. Our good works are the testimony of our faith.
Abraham stands as an example of a man who believes in the promise God has made. His belief gives rise to hope that God will fulfill the promises made to Abraham. Abraham’s faith and hope are the signs that he is in a right relationship with God. Our faith, hope and charity are the same for our time and in our world.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator