"I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history." -Cardinal Francis George

Friday, February 17, 2012

"Hard Saying" in Today's Mass Reading

The first mass reading for today is one of my favorites. Although it was not always.

The Apostle James distills the debate about faith and works  so well in his epistle, it is staggering. I remember as a Reformed Protestant having to sort of *wince* a bit at some of St. James' language. The book of James was full of what Protestants must call "hard sayings", which is another way of saying either "we dont like what it says", or "it doesn't fit in our interpretive paradigm, so let's shelve it".
Well, that's not good enough. And James calls you an "ignoramus" for doing so.
You believe that God is one. You do well. Even the demons believe that and tremble. Do you want proof, you ignoramus, that faith without works is useless?

Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar?

You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by the works.Thus the Scripture was fulfilled that says, Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness, and he was called the friend of God.
See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. For just as a body without a spirit is dead,
so also faith without works is dead.
James apostolic smack down just reached out from the 1st century and slapped the Protestant cheek.

In Matthew 19 we also have a great proclamation of the gospel from Jesus. The rich young ruler asks what he must do to be saved -a question we all ask- and a question we all understand intimately. In my experience, Protestants discount or play down Jesus words here and/or disparage the rich young man for even asking what he must "do", as if he is trying to make it to heaven by his bootstraps. Or worse they relegate the passage to being a "hard saying" and flip ahead to Romans to cleanse the mental palate of such stumping statements by Jesus. But Christ is clearly telling this man that he must do certain things (works) to be saved. He is saying exactly what St. James (and St. Paul for that matter) would say: Only a living faith saves. A negative way to phrase that: "faith without works is dead". Or as St. Paul would say, a true faith is "faith working in love" (Gal. 5:6).

I think the fear of Protestants is that any talk of works *gasp!* will immediately devolve into a religion of "us seeking God" or a neglecting of God's grace. Or they may view faith and works as oil and water (respectively) in a glass: Pour more works in the glass and grace flows out. But I think the Catholic version of this analogy is that for the baptized Christian who has been washed in the Blood of Christ there is only oil (faith) in the glass and the entire glass gets miraculously bigger when we admit works into the scene. In this sense faith and works can be seen as one and the same thing.

Car and gas.
Lamp and oil.
Bread and yeast.

There is no antagonism between faith and works for Catholics. All is of grace, all is from God and for God. If I see myself doing a "good work", then praise God He has given me the grace to do that. The glory goes to Him.

And isn’t that "work" really another way of saying I have faith? According to James, Jesus and Paul it is!

The longer I am Catholic, the more I realize that the doctrine of sola fide is just dressed up antinomianism. And if you are a Protestant and don't know what that word means but you do know what legalism means, then you are probably an antinomian. As James would say, you are an ignoramus.


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  2. Nice.

    I love the look on the rich young mans face. Like he just cant bear to hear Jesus' words. Scary.