“God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him”
1 John 4:16
This is the good news for humanity. God is Love! Love has always been at the heart of God’s plan. Indeed, the history of salvation is a history of God’s love for his creation. Love was the basis for the relationship between God and Israel:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might”
…and it is at the heart of God’s plan for redemption:
“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life”
It was at the Cross, that Love was poured into humanity in all its divine mercy and glory! In returned, we are called to love God and to love one another:
“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself”
Matthew 22:37-40, citing from Duet 6:5 and Lev 19:18
This love cannot be merely expressed by words but it has to be materialized by works as St. John says:
“Children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth”
1 John 3:18
and as Jesus says in Matthew 25:41-45:
“Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.” Then they will answer and say, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?” He will answer them, “Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.” And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life”.
So it is very clear that works of mercy are necessary for salvation, but can they earn our salvation?
The answer is simply NOT A CHANCE. We cannot earn our way to heaven because salvation is a free and unmerited gift from God. Paragraph 1996 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states it very succinctly:
“Our justification comes from the grace of God. Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life”.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, Paragraph 1996
God through his Grace freely gives us love and in return we are moved to love one another in works of mercy. As Pope Benedict XVI beautifully wrote in his encyclical Deus Caritas Est:
“since God has first loved us (1 John 4:10) love is now no longer a mere “command”, it is the response to the gift of love with which God draws near to us”.
This illuminates the relationship between faith, works and salvation. Works play a role in our salvation because God loved us first (1 John 4:10). This Christian love (Caritas) is fulfilled through works of charity and obedience to God’s commandments. It is a necessary response to God’s love.
Works are an indelible consequence of love, without love there is no works, without works there cannot be love and without love, faith is dead. As St. James wrote:
“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”.
It is because we were first loved by God that we can love one another. Thus, the merits of our works belong to God, as Saint Augustine puts it:“When God rewards our merits, he rewards his own gifts to us“, because it is through Christ, in Christ, and with Christ that we love one another:
“Remain in me, as I in you. As a branch cannot bear fruit all by itself, unless it remains part of the vine, neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, with me in him, bears fruit in plenty; for cut off from me you can do nothing.”
So what are we going to do about it?
Hunger, war and diseases predominate most parts of the third-world countries, but also an utter lack of respect to human dignity predominates in the developed world.
We are called to be the Salt and light of the Earth:
“You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot”.
You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden.
Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house.
Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.
What about the poor who goes hungry every night in India or the dying in Africa?
What about 4,000 babies that are aborted each day in the US alone?
As followers of Christ are we supposed to ignore this? Or are we called to be the Salt of the Earth, the light of the World?
To be silent on such issues is to be complicit! Let us be the salt and light and do something about it. We can donate our time in a soup kitchen, nursing homes or even at a local hospital through their volunteer program. Let us pray to end abortion. Let us be kind with our neighbors…it all starts with opening our hearts to his Love the rest will take care of itself.