Can That Kind of Faith Save Him?
Dear Brothers and Sisters:
My father was diagnosed with cancer in 1993 on the 4th of July weekend and by the end of October he was dead. It was a beautiful death in many ways, surrounded by his wife and five sons; it was a supernatural moment for all of us. During this time I remember thinking about how many people greeted him and had kind words for him in cards and phone calls and how few actually came in person. It reminded me a lot of the reading from St. James which says, “If a brother or sister has nothing to wear or no food for the day and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,’ but you do not give him the necessities of the body, what good is it?” Is that kind of faith one that saves or makes a Christian different from others? And doesn’t this happen often?
Words and actions need to be consistent if one believes in this letter of James, or sincerely desires to live a Christian life. Faith without works is dead; it doesn’t exist. Works without faith is also dead. James, and the Christian tradition, says faith is a full response to God manifested in deeds; deeds that that can be seen. Deeds are love, not sweet words, as St. Josemaría Escrivá often said. It does not mean that one needs to do great things, but you need to act. Deeds can be prayers, small acts of service, the right word for someone who is suffering, visiting someone who is sick or dying…the works of mercy.
A tree shows its life by its fruit, and if there is no fruit Jesus often says cut it down. True faith, an adult faith is never alone; it is accompanied by works of service, of prayer, of concern for God, and for others. ‘A doer of the Word’ is not one who looks in the mirror and sees an image of what God wants him to be and then forgets what he sees, and goes on with his life.
The Letter of James goes on to say, “Was not Abraham made holy because of his deed: his willingness to offer his son on the altar?” His faith became perfect by what he did. Abraham put his faith in God and therefore was called a ‘friend of God.’ A friend of God puts God first in his life; he lives Sunday as a gift from God, and thanks him in the Eucharist, and sees that all he has is from God. A friend of the world is only worried about what he possesses, and desires to have more, and thinks that what he has always comes from his efforts. It would make no sense to him to offer his son to God.
Calvin said a faith that saves is never alone. A lively faith and adult faith is always accompanied by actions. The actions flow from faith. Martin Luther was very correct in saying that we cannot earn salvation from our works. Faith is always a gift of God, a divine initiative. Charity is a consequence of faith, it flows from faith. Deeds express life, they don’t give it. Let us ask for the gift of faith that will lead us to make many charitable works, without effort.