I’m Catholic, but I am new to the faith so I’m still kind of confused and it’s frustrating me. I know the Church teaches that grace is free and we receive it by faith. But what does the church say about works after that? Do we need works? What if we don’t have works? What f we have works at first but no longer have works after? What role does works play in salvation. I’ve been looking on Catholic sites but somehow it has made me more confused… what role does works play? What do you mean when you say works is a way of co-operating with grace? I have been catechized, but I was still confused even after but never really mentioned it. What do you mean when you say faith working through love???
Regarding Faith and Works in St. Paul
Pope Benedict XVI
(Two audiences from the Year of St. Paul)
and one from a few years earlier: vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/audiences/2006/documents/hf_ben-xvi_aud_20061108_en.html
Don’t worry too much about it. When you pray, go to Mass, read the Bible, are helpful to others whenever possible, you’ve done good works. You don’t have to be a Mother Teresa to do good works.
Basically, good works is a phrase that means living the Christian life.
Here is my understanding - which grew out of similar confusion and lots of reading, so hopefully someone will correct me if I am wrong. There are lots of technical terms, but I can never remember what any of them mean, so I won’t use any. I also won’t use the word “works” until the very end. Since there is confusion on what “works” means, I think it is best to simply explain the process and put that label where it goes at the end, so as to avoid some of the accusations that people who don’t understand our terminology (something I sympathize with, as I can never remember it either) level at us. To get started:
At Baptism we are put into a state of friendship with God, what is known as the state of grace. If we die in that state, we go to heaven, if not, we go to hell. There is absolutely no way we can achieve that state ourselves - it is a pure gift from God. The grace (gift) of being put in that state has a name, and I don’t know what it is.
Then, throughout our lives, as situations arise, God grants us the the ability to respond in each situation in one or more ways that are pleasing to Him. This ability is another gift, another grace from God, and it also has a name. I don’t know what it is. But we can either accept these graces or not, as we choose. If we accept them, and thus (by the gift of God) act in a way pleasing to God, then we grow in holiness.
If we reject these gifts, these graces, then depending to what degree we reject them, various things can happen. A minor rejection - that is, an action in opposition to one of these graces - hurts us, and enough of them can lead us into habits that lead us into more major rejections later, but relatively minor rejections do not in themselves destroy the state of friendship that God created earlier - much like one can get angry and insult a friend but still remain friends. Too much of such petty insults will of course be pretty harmful to the relationship, but one minor instance in and of itself will not destroy the friendship. (And even many are harmful because they further get us used to rejecting God, not because God will give up on us.)
If, on the other hand, we reject these graces in a grave way, if we look at a gift from God that is core to what it is to do/be good and decide to oppose it entirely, willingly and knowingly, then we have just rejected the core of what Goodness is. And since God is Goodness itself, and the gifts God offers us is to become aligned with this goodness, then we just, in rejecting what is Good, have rejected God - we have totally rejected and destroyed the state of friendship God put us in back at baptism. Again - God’s side is still open, and God still always offers us the grace to come back, but we have closed our side.
It is my understanding that “good works” are accepting these graces to do what ought be done, and hence allowing God to make us more holy, and that “bad works” are rejecting and opposing these graces. It is further my understanding that even the state of doing things morally neutral - not doing a something morally praiseworthy when it is not morally required, but neither doing a evil - is also in fact accepting a grace from God, just not the highest one He has offered us, and is so in some sense the lowest form of good work. Thus God can truly say that in all things with any moral weight, which is nearly everything beyond choosing what order we put our socks on in the morning, we are either with Him or against Him. And so, if all of this is correct, then good works are accepting the graces God offers us, and not spitting in His eye and turning our backs on Him. So in this sense, good works are necessary because the alternative is evil works, leading to mortal sin, which is damning. But again, it’s all about cooperating with God - we do not earn even the ability to do good that He gives us, we simply cooperate with Him to one degree or another, or reject Him.
Again, I think this is all correct, but please feel free to tear it apart if it is not.
The idea of faith and good works is found in James, I’ll link it here so you can read online, or you may want to look it up in your own Bible. biblegateway.com/passage/?search=James+2%3A14-26&version=NKJV
Basically what the text is saying is that it is not enough simply to CALL yourself a Christian. You must live your convictions. In other words, if you come across a starving person in the street, what good does it do for you to simply say “I hope someone helps that man…” as you walk past. It helps nothing. He is still starving. To make a difference, you must act upon your conviction, your desire to help him.
Remember the words of Christ, whom we are trying to imitate. Feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, take care of the widows and orphans. Love thy neighbor.
When you come across a starving man, take it upon yourself to give him food and drink. That is an ‘act’ of kindness. That is living your faith. What the scripture is telling us is that it is not enough to know the scriptures and give lip-service, as though it was some theoretical math problem on a chalk board. We actually have to LIVE what we preach.
When we look at the saints, or even Mother Teresa, it is both faith and works in combination that make them stand out from the crowd. Mother Teresa performed acts of love and caring by dedicating her life to helping the poorest of the poor, and she did this of course as a way of acting out her faith in Christ.
So you see, the two of them go hand in hand. If you have faith in the Lord, you will keep his commandments and try to live your life in accordance with his teachings.
There is no way to buy your way into heaven, either with money or good deeds. You must have faith in Christ. Good works are nothing more than putting that faith into action. There will not be a bean-counter when you reach heaven’s gates saying “Oh, you helped 22 homeless people… but today’s quota was 23. Sorry, no heaven for you.”
No, that is absurd. The faith and good works is merely to remind you to live the faith, live your life as best you can. Love the Lord, and show your devotion by acting in accordance with his will. Then you’re good to go.
Does that clear things up?
Thanks you so much. I was reading but the more I read it confused me because in different articles it was explained in different ways. That was what was causing me to become confused. I was looking for just a simple explanation like yours. Thank you.
Yes thank you.
Be sure to read those
Read the Gospels. Christ speaks numerous times in parables of producing good fruit, He says if we love Him to keep His commandments, to love one another, to do things for others. If we love Jesus, we will love others. Works do not save us, but they are a natural and necessary product of the faith that will.
Read the letter of James which points out that works are the product of faith. If one has faith, one will do good works. Faith, without works is dead. Kind of like the seed that sprouted and then died in the parable of the sower.
Then consider Christ’s account of the judgement. Note, those who are condemned failed to see Jesus in their fellow man, failed to love. Failed to act. They are being condemned not for sins of commission, but for sins of ommission.
Matthew 25 31-46
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, 32g and all the nations* will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 34Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35h For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, 36naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ 37Then the righteous* will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ 40i And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ 41* j Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42k For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43a 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.’ 44* 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?’ 45He 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.’ 46l And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
Yes we do need good works.
“Faith without works is dead.” [Jam 2:26]
**What do Catholics teach about being saved?
Answer by Fr. John Echert on 09-02-2007 (EWTN): **
You are getting closer to the truth, but I must make further distinctions. The Catholic Church teaches that faith is necessary for salvation but not of itself sufficient. Our Lord Himself commanded that the disciples go forth and baptise the nations, which confers a particular grace of sanctification. This grace of sanctification is necessary for salvation – at least in the case of those who have access to baptism. The good works and repentance which you cite in James are essential, but we say that they proceed from supernatural charity as a motive, and not simply faith. In other words, someone can truly have faith in Christ by which they are drawn to Him and accept Him, but would not necessarily do acts of charity for the motive of faith alone – which is why we typically call them acts of charity, that is, supernatural love.