None of St. Paul's letters is stronger in maintaining his belief that we are justified by faith alone than is the Letter to the Galatians. We have already heard him reaffirm this in the first few chapters of this letter. So it is important that we also take special notice of what he asks of the Galatians in the passage that we read today.
The old argument that there is some sort of difference of opinion between the writings of St. Paul and the Letter of St. James usually centers on the fact that St. James urges us to perform good works while St. Paul maintains that only faith is necessary for our salvation. Yet if we pay close attention to St. Paul's request of the citizens of Galatia today, we see that he also urges the members of the Christian community to perform good works. In the case of today's passage, he is asking them to match the contributions made by the community of Macedonia. He pleads with them to be generous in supporting those in need. He asks them to do it to prove or test the genuineness of their love. For those who believe, who place their faith in the Lord Jesus, such generosity is expected when faced with the needs of the poor. It goes without saying that almsgiving is a "good work."
This does not dilute in any way the doctrine of justification by faith any more than the Letter of St. James dilutes that belief. Faith is necessary for salvation. However, both apostles would agree that faith and good works go hand in hand. We do good not to win salvation but to test our love. Jesus has taught us that giving alms should not be a matter of looking for repayment; rather the left hand should not know what the right is doing. We perform acts of charity because it is a hallmark of who we are as a people, not because we will get something in return. Our salvation is a gift. It is given without condition or reservation. Our good works are simply a sign of our gratitude for that gift.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator