Friday  February 17, 2006 (Audio) Homily by Fr. Robert Altier   Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

 

Reading (James 2:14-24, 26)   Gospel (St. Mark 8:34-9:1)

 

In the first reading today, Saint James tells us several times that faith without works is dead. We absolutely have to act upon our faith, but the question has to do, first of all, with that faith that we have to act upon. The faith is not just some rather nice belief that Jesus is God, nor is it enough to be able to say, “I believe that Jesus died for me; therefore, I have faith,” because as Saint James makes very clear, if you believe that God is one – and He is – even the demons believe that and tremble. That is not enough to get them out of hell, and it was not enough to keep them out of hell. They believed, in fact they did more than that, they knew for a fact that God was one when they chose against Him. They knew the truth when they chose against God. So just to have a knowledge of the faith is not enough, and even just to give intellectual assent to certain elements of the faith is not enough.

 

To have the faith, we must believe in the fullness of Christ. That is why Jesus said, Whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this faithless and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His Father’s glory with His angels. Once again, we can look at it and ask, “Do I believe in every single thing the Catholic Church teaches,” because that is the teaching of Jesus Christ and that is the fullness of the Person of Jesus Christ. It has to have that element with regard to faith, but then we have to have the other part. The Church is very clear that it is not enough even with that dogmatic element to it, that is, to believe in every single thing the Church teaches is still not enough to be able to get to heaven. We then have to act upon it.

 

There are works that must be done, and for each person those things are going to be somewhat different. For all of us, of course, there are some that are the same. If we say that we believe in God then we need to pray to Him. We need to do things that are going to lead us to eternal life. We need to pray for others, but we also need to look for the opportunities God gives to us to help others. That help can come through teaching, that help can come through doing some act of kindness for them, not just some generic sort of thing but rather that we do these things out of faith in Christ. Anyone can do something nice for a selfish reason: “If I help this person who needs some help, then I’ll get something in return.” Well, remember what the Lord said about that: They have already received their reward. So that is not the point. The point is that if out of faith in Jesus Christ we act in charity toward another person to help that person along the way to heaven, and the reason for which we are acting is our faith in Christ, that is the kind of work that needs to be done.

 

When Saint Paul tells us that we are saved by faith apart from works, he is talking about the empty works of the law. He is not talking about the works that are meritorious for eternal life. We need to be very clear about what it is he is talking about and not throw out everything. In other words, as it is made very clear many times in Scripture, no one is going to be justified by going through the routines that are laid out for us in the law of the Old Testament, particularly the ceremonial laws, because those have all been done away with. That is what Saint Paul is talking about.

 

We are going to be justified through faith and through acting upon that faith. As Saint James makes clear, if we say that we have faith, but then there is somebody who is in need and we refuse to lift a finger to help that person, where is our faith? We say that we believe in Jesus, Who says, Whatever you do to the least of My brothers, you do to Me, and then we refuse to help. That is the kind of thing Saint James is looking for. That is what he is talking about. If we can see Christ in this person and because of our faith in Christ we are willing to help, that is the kind of work that would be meritorious for us. So doing acts of kindness in that way through prayer, through penances, through things like these, and acting upon the faith that we profess, that is the kind of work that is necessary. If we can acknowledge every single thing that Jesus teaches and live the faith that we profess, then we can have complete confidence on the Day of Judgment when we stand before God. But if we are ashamed of Our Lord, if we refuse to believe in something that He teaches, or we fail to act upon the faith that we profess, then He says of us that the Son of Man will be ashamed of us when He comes escorted by the angels in His Father’s glory.

 

*  This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.