September 16, 2018: Twenty fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Pastor’s Corner
In today’s second reading, St. James exhorts us to put our faith into action. In one of the most famous lines of his very practical letter, St. James speaks directly to a problem in the early Church. Those who professed belief in God were doing scant for those in need: “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 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? Faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:14-17)
For St. James, faith is two-fold. It is both a gift and a virtue. As a gift, faith is God’s presence in our minds and hearts to believe in realities beyond our direct experience. Faith is not something we earn by doing good works. It is not the reward for services rendered to God. It is the free gift of God who places his love in our hearts. Consider the life of Abraham, the Patriarch of Faith. When God calls Abraham to leave family, security and home, it is not because Abraham was particularly a wise or generous person. God simply called Abraham to follow his direction and planted the seeds of faith in his heart which grew as he began his journey. Faith is God’s gift of himself.
As a virtue, faith is a habit of life which enables us to trust in God’s call, even in the face of difficulties and trials. As with any virtue, faith grows as we exorcise this trust through actions of generosity, patience and charity. This is important to remember because we sometimes consider that faith is merely a kind of knowledge. To believe in God is only to acknowledge God’s existence. But this is false: knowledge is not identical to virtue. For example, in the Gospel, the first person to know that Jesus is the Messiah are the demons. The devil knows Jesus’ identity, even before Peter or the other apostles. The devil is not an atheist, nor mistaken about Jesus divinity. But the devil’s belief in God is not living. Knowing that God exits or that Jesus is God is not enough of itself to save. Knowing about God is the gift of the seed of God’s presence, but acting on this knowledge cultivates our faith so that it bears fruit. Faith comes alive in altruistic action.
This two-fold dimension of faith is crucial, particularly in moments when our faith is challenged and we find it difficult to believe. When we begin to question God’s presence in our life or undergo any crisis of faith, we instinctively look for clues to discover where God might be in our lives. We grasp for the silver- lining of our present difficulties. For St. James, this strategy is insufficient. If we want to grow in our faith and engage doubt and crisis, we must act. Faith is a gift, but it only grows when we put it into action. If we want to be people of faith, we cannot simply profess the gift of faith we have received, we must put that faith into action in the way we treat others. St. James asks: Are you struggling to believe? Is your faith weak? Do you want to grow in faith? Then act. Through generous, kind and loving actions, faith is rejuvenated. If faith without works is dead, then faith which works brings fullness of life.
-Fr. Michael Hurley, O.P., Pastor