Two Elements of Faith
By Fr. Robert J. Carr
The Apostle James I always read as the old fire and brimstone preacher of his day. If you read what he has to say, you can see that he is strong, to the point. Martin Luther called the letter of James a straw epistle. He even denied that it was written by St. James or any Apostle because of his emphasis on faith AND works. Since then it has been determined that in fact the Apostle James did write this letter. James' teaching on faith and works has been grossly misunderstood by both Protestants and Catholics, but it is a simple one, if we are going to live the Catholic faith, we must put our faith into action.
However, there is another part of his admonition that has been missed and it is something when we teach without this part we do serious damage to our faith and to our community. In fact, I think it is this missing part that has led to much of the major problems in our Church today.
Before, I go any further, I want you to notice something that is key. Nothing in our world is self contained and self sufficient, nothing. We reproduce through male and female. We function through left and right and we even drive our country through democrats and republicans. Our parish even runs on Spanish and English. Our cars run not on gas, but on gas and electicity. A car without a battery has to either be jumped started or push started with an outside force or it cannot be started at all. Yet without an alternator it cannot run at all. Nothing is self contained.
Once we understand that we can see that James gives us a formula for living our faith and it has two parts. If we use only one then we are like trying to run a car with gas and without electricity. Such a car is nothing more than a solid block of metal, it will never run.
Look verse 1:27: Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction AND to keep oneself unstained by the world. Notice that it has two parts.
These two parts are drawn off of the two elements cited in James’ Epistle: faith and works. James explains to us that faith without works is dead. Saying that you believe in God without living your faith is no faith at all. It is nothing more than empty words. However, today’s reading reminds us of the polar opposite. Works without faith is destructive.
James reminds us that there are the two parts. However, in our world we are trying to work too much on just the one part. We care for widows and orphans but are we concerned about being unstained in the world? If you do not focus on both parts, your faith will fall apart.
There is a fascinating element to faith and people do not fully understand it. Despite teachings to the contrary, Jesus is correct in his words by their fruits you will know them. When we are doing what we are supposed to be doing our work is blessed by the Lord bringing not prosperity to our wallets, but prosperity to our work. That means, we may not make lots of money, but we will save lots of souls. However, if we are not doing what we are called to do, we will not bear much fruit. We may even makes lots of money, but we will not save many souls. This is the element that has to be watched. We will bear fruit when we are doing what God calls us to do and when are rooted in the faith to which he also calls us.
Therefore, James makes it clear that one of the elements of our worship is to keep ourselves unstained from the world.
Our world is filled with people who are doing what they consider to be good works, but they are not unstained by the world. James reminds us that both are required. Well what does that mean? Simple, that we need to be people who are infused with the wisdom of God and we make our decisions using that wisdom when doing our service to God and his people.
If we choose to do one or the other then we are living a false faith that is dead. Trying to be unstained by the world, while not doing good works is exactly what James defines as faith without works and says it is dead. Yet, at the same time he also makes it clear that the opposite is also true. It is this second message that is lost to this generation.
Part of the problem may be that we are dealing with the exact opposite problem that Martin Luther addressed. Martin Luther railed against any thought that one had to earn his way into Heaven. This would mean that although Jesus died on the cross, my good works must still outweigh my bad works. This is an incorrect understanding of James' teaching. In fact, I know one priest explaining how that teaching is wrong told of a lesson that he learned as a child. That when we die God will bring out a big scale and if our good works outweigh our bad works we go to Heaven and if our bad works outweigh our good works we go to Hell. Yet, notice in this ...
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