October 13, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Romans 3:21-30) Gospel (St. Luke 11:47-54)
Saint Paul, in the first reading, talks about how we are justified and how we are made righteous before God. To be justified is to have our sins forgiven, and that is what it is to be righteous: to be in the state of grace, to be holy with our sins forgiven and living according to the ways of God. And he tells us that the only way we can be justified is through faith in Jesus Christ. Now what is important is that he tells us we are not justified by works of the law. Those works of the law would be going through the various ceremonies according to the Jewish rites, and that by simply doing those things, that is, by bringing a cow and offering it, by bringing a sheep and offering it to God, whatever it might be, that just through those means we are not going to be justified. The only way we are going to be justified is through faith.
If we do not have faith in God, yet we just go through the motions, what good is it? Let us say that there is a kid who does not like to go to church and does not believe in God but his mom forces him to go to church. He sits in the back pew with his arms folded and his bottom lip sticking out being a little snot, and at the same time he says, “Well, I went to church, didn’t I? I should be able to go to heaven now because I did such a great job and I went to church every Sunday.” There was no faith. He did not want to be there, he kicked and screamed and made a scene, but all of a sudden he is going to try to justify himself because he was actually there. Well, if there is not faith there is no justification.
It begins with faith in Jesus Christ, Who died for our sins so that we could be forgiven, but then it is to go to the next step. This, again, is where there is the difference between a Catholic and a non-Catholic. For the non-Catholics, they say that you are justified by faith alone. Nowhere does Scripture say that. In the eighth chapter of Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans, which we will hear in a few days, Martin Luther put the word “alone” in there when he translated Scripture. It is not there. It is not there in any Protestant translation today; they have taken it out. But that was his justification for saying that you are saved by faith alone. He put the word “alone” in! It is not part of Scripture. In fact, the only place in the entire Bible where the words “faith alone” are mentioned is in Saint James 2:24 where it says explicitly: You are not saved by faith alone. So if we are going to look at Scripture to see what it says, it is very clear: We must have faith–there is no salvation without faith–but we must also act upon that faith. That is the point we have to understand.
If we believe that Jesus Christ died for our sins then we need to do what must be done in order for our sins to be forgiven. We need to go to Confession and then we need to change our lives to live according to the way of Christ. Otherwise, what is happening are two things. Just like the scholars of the Jewish law, according to Jesus they locked the door to heaven; they did not get in and neither did anyone else. It is the same basic principle. If all we are doing is saying, “Well, you have to have a generic faith that Jesus died for your sins, and you get to go to heaven,” it does not work that way. Remember, Jesus Himself told us the way that leads to perdition is wide and smooth. It is a pretty easy road, isn’t it? “Just believe in Jesus. You can do anything you want and you can still go to heaven.” It does not work. It never has and it never will. We must have faith in Jesus Christ–there is no salvation apart from it–but we must act upon that faith.
Saint James tells us, Show me your faith without works, and I will show the faith that underlies my works. Not empty works of the law, not just showing up and sitting with a bad attitude and saying, “Well, I went to church, didn’t I?” but to truly be there with a heart filled with love. If we truly believe what we profess and if we really, truly believe what we know to be true, that Jesus is present in the Blessed Sacrament and that the Mass is the sacrifice of Christ, then how could we ever possibly sit there distant and with a bad attitude? But having that faith, then we have to act in love because He is God, truly present among us. It must change the way that we live, the way that we act, the way that we are so that through faith in Jesus Christ we will put that faith into practice and we will truly be righteous in the sight of God.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.