Can’t have one without the other: Faith and good works are both essential Print
Written by Mary C. Uhler   
Thursday, Mar. 01, 2012 -- 12:00 AM

Editor's View by Mary C. Uhler

Over the years, Christians have had discussions — sometimes very heated arguments — about the primacy of faith or good works.

For Catholics, it’s really not one or the other that takes precedence. It’s both. In fact, according to Scripture and Church teaching, you can’t have one without the other.

As we begin the season of Lent, it seems an appropriate time to reflect on the connection between faith and good works. Traditionally Lent is a time when prayer, fasting, and almsgiving take centerstage.

Connection between faith and works

Scripture readings heard at Mass during Lent emphasize the connection between faith and good works. Jesus himself gives us examples by taking time to go off and pray, showing the importance of prayer even to the son of God.

But Jesus also shows acts of charity towards others, including healing many sick people. It is interesting to note that even in many of those instances of healing, Jesus mentions the importance of faith. “Your faith has saved you,” he says several times.

Because these people believe in God, they are open to his saving power. That doesn’t mean that everyone who suffers from an illness will be cured by prayer, but perhaps prayer will give people the strength to cope with suffering.

As far as good works are concerned, perhaps the strongest Scripture passage linking faith and good works is found in James 2:14-18. It says in part,  “What good is it, my brothers, 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? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

That is very strong language! It should impel us to do what we can to help those in need. At the very least, it means providing food, clothing, and shelter to the hungry, poor, and homeless in our communities and throughout the world.

Performing concrete acts of charity

Pope Benedict XVI emphasized the importance of concrete acts of charity during his remarks made on February 24 with members of Circolo di San Pietro, which operates soup kitchens and a shelter in Rome. The Holy Father said that acts of charity are an essential part of the Catholic Church’s new evangelization effort, reported a Catholic News Service article.

“We know that the authenticity of our fidelity to the Gospel is verified in part by the attention and concrete care that we try to show our neighbors, especially the weakest and the marginalized,” said the pope.

True concern for others means trying to meet all their human needs, “physical, moral, and spiritual,” and “overcoming the hardness of heart that makes us blind to the suffering of others,” the pope said.

“The service of charity,” he said, “is a privileged form of evangelization in the light of the teaching of Jesus, who will count what we have done for our brothers and sisters — especially the smallest and most overlooked — as something done for him.”

Youth lead the way

During this time of Lent, it might mean participating in Catholic Relief Services’ Operation Rice Bowl, donating to local food pantries such as those operated by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, or supporting such outreach efforts as the Catholic Multicultural Center in Madison.

Children and young adults today seems to be catching the message of service to others. In the February 23 issue, the Catholic Herald included a report on the “Feed My Sheep” Lenten project being undertaken by seven Madison area parishes. In many parishes, young people have been active in raising funds to purchase meals for the hungry.

This week’s Catholic Herald features the service efforts being undertaken by college students involved at St. Paul’s University Catholic Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Students are providing many kinds of service in the Madison area community and are going on service trips throughout the country.

The students report that they are learning more about their faith while being involved in service, proving again that faith and good works go hand in hand.

Let’s follow their example and find ways to put our faith into practice through increased prayer and good works during Lent. It might start some good habits which last all year long.