Today in the first reading, we have the classic text that is used to justify a faith alone mentality or the idea that merely having an intellectual belief that does not involve an act of the will, is enough to be saved. This idea circulates amongst many religions and has quite a level of misunderstanding about Catholic Teaching.
I have heard people say that Catholics have to earn their way into heaven, which couldn’t be further from the truth. The Catechism states that “The grace of the Holy Spirit has the power to justify us, that is, to cleanse us from our sins and to communicate to us ‘the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ’ and through Baptism.” (CCC 1987)
So we believe as Catholics that we are justified by the power of God, not anything that we do. We are not able to earn our way into heaven; it is a free and beautiful gift granted to us by God himself. So why all the confusion? When Catholics say we need both faith and works, what we mean is that we are justified by faith, but we have to assent to it in our will, which leads to action. Our faith cannot just be intellectual ideas, but it must be realized and lived.
This is truly a beautiful understanding of faith. You wouldn’t tell your wife you love her and then not act on it. The reality of love would be so strong in your will that it inspires you to do something. This takes love from a fluffy sentimentality or abstract concept into a tangible action of the will. Being baptized is an action; praying for forgiveness is an action, loving God is an action.
We do not believe that loving God will earn us our salvation, but we do believe, in most instances, that we need a relationship with him in order to spend eternity with him. That is biblical. I think about these truths often in relation to theology. I love studying and reading about theology, but it is easy to keep theology on a level of the abstract. Theology must always pierce into the practicals of life. It must go from thinking about God to loving and experiencing him. Otherwise, it loses its depth and beauty.
St. Thomas Aquinas understood this well after seeing the vision of God and then promptly asking his brothers to burn all of his writings because they are but straw in relation to what he just experienced. Today’s first reading allows us to experience in a small way that the vision that Aquinas had. I couldn’t help but read it and be overcome by joy that we are justified by faith in Christ Jesus. No matter how many times we fall, God will forgive. But we still have to do our part and accept and cooperate with that grace.
If you struggle with this at all, be encouraged. I know I have struggled with the fact that God could still love me after everything I have done. We can think our sin is too strong to be given justification. If this is you, I want to leave you with one of my favorite quotes from St. Claude de la Colombiere, who said, “I glorify you God in making known how good you are towards sinners. That your mercy prevails over all malice, that nothing can destroy it. That no matter how many times we fall or how shamefully or how criminally, a sinner need not be driven to despair of your pardon. It is in vain that your enemy and mine sets new traps for me every day. He will make me lose everything else before the hope that I have in your mercy.” From all of us here at Diocesan, God Bless!
Tommy Shultz is a Solutions Evangelist for Diocesan. In that role, he is committed to coaching parishes and dioceses on authentic and effective Catholic communication. Tommy has a heart and a flair for inspiring people to live their faith every day. He has worked in various youth ministry, adult ministry, and diocesan roles. He has been a featured speaker at retreats and events across the country. His mission and drive have been especially inspired by St. John Paul II’s teachings. Tommy is blessed to be able to learn from the numerous parishes he visits and pass that experience on in his presentations. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.