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September 16, 2018 - Faith Leads to Action & Action Originates in Faith

Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

“Not my family, not my problem!” On the 26thof September, I am organizing an evening to share my experience with undocumented immigrants at El Paso and Juarez. I posted the information and flyer on my Facebook page. One of the actual responses on my post from someone who identified himself as a Christian was, “Not my family, not my problem!” For all the years I have been on social media, this was my first jaw-dropping, shocking moment. Immaterial of the issue, I cannot believe that a Christian could think this way. What use is faith, if it does not lead to action? What use is action if it does not originate in faith? 

Over the past two weeks, I have focusing on the second reading from the letter of St. James. For today’s liturgy, James balances “faith” and “works” for us. He says, “In my three points, I would like to reflect on faith and works on three different levels.  

1.  Faith and Works. The sense in which James writes about faith and works has to do with our faith in relation to the rest of the world, particularly the poor. He says, “If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has 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 them the necessities of the body, what good is it? James seems to suggest that faith by itself cannot save us. Salvation is the coming together of faith and action. Hence, his rhetorical question, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:15-17). “Not my family, not my problem,” is simply not a Christian principle. 

2. Because We are Saved. James’ connection between faith and works was transported to a very different realm after the Reformation in 1517. Even though St. Paul and St. James wrote about faith and works for very different reasons, Paul’s “faith alone” became the banner of Reformation and Protestantism. Catholics took recourse in James’ faith and works. In Catholic theology and spirituality, faith and works are really not contradictory. “Faith and works” from a Catholic perspective mean that our works do not save us. It is God who saves us. I used to know a deacon in a parish in St. Louis, who worked every day at Mother Teresa’s soup kitchen. He told me once that he works with the poor people because that was his ticket to heaven. This is what I mean when I say that our works will not save us. We don’t show works so that God will save us. We show works because we are saved. Don’t be good so that you can go to heaven. Be good because you are already in heaven. However, if our life does not offer to others the very life that God offers to us, then we undo God’ saving action in the world. 

3. Christ-Like Action. Today’s gospel reading is a reiteration of the unity of faith and works. Jesus asks his disciples, “But who do YOU say that I am?” The moment Peter confesses, “You are the Christ,” Jesus leads him to action. Jesus says, "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it." Christ was teaching his disciples that faith must lead to action. Peter had to learn that. Sure, he made his confession. But when Christ talked about his own suffering and death, his self-sacrifice, his selfless act of love, Peter took Jesus aside and rebuked him. He still must learn that Faith in Christ must lead to Christ-like action. This is the important lesson the Jesus will teach the disciples until his death on the cross.  

May our participation in this Eucharist be our faith confession in Jesus. And may our confession lead to works that bear witness to our faith in Christ.

- Fr. Satish Joseph