Do you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?
It’s easy, in some ways, for the fundamentalist evangelical Christian. If you answer “yes” to that question and really mean it, you are assured of eternal life. If not, all the good works you may do are for naught. But with all due respect to evangelicals who may read this, it’s not quite that simple for Catholics. For us, we cannot deny the strong message in Jas 2:14-17:
“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”
Faith and good works are two sides of the same coin, and that coin is the Christian life. As Christians, our commitment to Jesus Christ calls us to both personal sanctification and active involvement in the transformation of the world. It is in the dynamic interplay of these two dimensions that we achieve a growing closeness to God. It is important to pray and to grow in the practice of prayer, to do spiritual reading, to study the Bible and our Catholic tradition and to participate in the Eucharist regularly.
But, as the priest says, “Go forth the Mass has ended.” In plainer terms he’s saying, “You have been fed; you have experienced Jesus in the bread and wine and in community. Now get out of here and take what you have received to all those in need.”
Devotion in Motion
What does faith in action look like? It can range from caring for a sick child, to serving meals in a soup kitchen, to working for world peace. It means putting the needs of others before my own needs and deciding where and how I can do that best. Each of us is called to discern how we can follow the Second Commandment of Jesus to love my neighbor as myself.
Jim and Kathy McGinnis, in their classic book Parenting for Peace and Justice (Orbis Books, 1981), said it so well: “If we want to love our neighbor effectively, we need ‘two feet’ to walk the path of service. One foot represents the works of mercy (direct service) and the other the works of justice (social change).”
The works of mercy include activities like visiting shut-ins, transporting the elderly to grocery stores or tutoring children. The works of justice include immigration reform, promoting care for the earth through recycling and support for environmental laws or advocating for a more just and equitable economic system.
There are some principles we have arrived at that might help as a person tries to decide where he or she is called to serve.
• Try to tithe your money and time. Faith in action must be done generously. We are called to give financially to those in need and to generously share our time. Do we give 10 percent of money and time to those in need? In answering that question, don’t forget to include those close to us: our children who need our attention or co-workers who may need a listening ear. But don’t stop there. Look at all the needs in the broader world, ones that call for mercy and for justice.
• Don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone. You might be called to something more challenging than you thought you could do. Remember it is God’s call to which we are responding. We believe, if it is a call from God, that God will somehow provide the resources we need.
• Cultivate solidarity with the poor and marginalized. Whether or not we are involved in serving the poor or advocating for government policies to help the poor, we cannot deny that Scripture reminds us many times that care for the poor and outcast is a special duty of Christians. We can cultivate solidarity by fasting periodically to remind ourselves of those who are hungry or riding the bus to remember that, for many, the bus is their only source of transportation.
‘To the Least of My Brothers’
Most of us, however, can easily find excuses for inaction.
“I don’t have time.” That may be true. It might also mean we haven’t honestly evaluated our priorities. Even if life is full, service can be just doing things a little differently: recycling and reusing can require a minimum of time once you set up your system. Time with your kids can be time you take them with you to drive a neighbor to the doctor.
“I don’t have extra money to support those in need.” Think of different ways to be generous. Give away things you don’t need or use. Susan just decided to give away flowers she grew to a couple of local organizations that serve the poor as a way to brighten up their environment. What do you have that you could give away?
“I don’t have any skills.” This is probably untrue, but you can always start with what you like doing. Do you love children? Volunteer in a day care center. Do you like to bike? Get involved with some organization that is advocating for more bike trails.
We find it helpful to reflect on the passage from Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus talks about the last judgment (Mt 25:31-46). The ones who entered heaven were the ones who were cared for the least: the poor, the naked, the hungry, the marginalized. Clearly Jesus calls us to respond in service to those in need. His call stretches us and challenges us. This is what faith in action is about.