Is Catholicism all about works?

I am NOT trying to be antagonistic here. I, myself am planning to join the Church, leaving a lifetime of Protestant roots. I emailed my mom about my choice this weekend. She is an ex-Catholic, confirmed in the Church, now a devout Protestant. She said she couldn’t be more devastated with my choice. That it was a mistake, and that Catholicism is all about working for your salvation. She mentioned penance, praying to Mary and several devotions like wearing a scapular or sacred heart pin, or Saint necklace and said that they were “works”. In what sense is she right or wrong here?

Here’s some resources that might be helpful:

In the sense that none of those things save us (and the Church has never taught that they do), she is wrong.

If you define “works” in a narrow, absurd manner, then anything is a work-- getting out of bed in the morning is a “work”.

Got the same reaction from my mother who was praying for me to be released from the bondage of the Catholic churches so called “legalism”

Ask her if she thinks we have to love God to be saved? Most say yes…well, isn’t that a work or action?

Stepping forward at a protestant altar call and confessing Jesus into your heart as Lord and Savior, that is a work or action.

Baptism, whether they think it’s a necessity or not, they still do it and that is a work or action.

Jesus said we must pick up our cross daily…that means we are called to holiness right now and without end.

We do works because of the grace of God, not thinking we are owed salvation in the process. :rolleyes:

They have a fundamental misunderstanding of what the communion of saints is. Jesus has one body not one in heaven and one on earth. We don’t mistake Mary and the saints as other gods to pray to…we are connected to each one of these people as part of the body. They really read too much into this and the end result is they cant see the forrest from the trees.

Slowly, I’m educating my own mother on Catholic matters and while she still disagrees on much, she sees my points made and is becoming more comfortable with my decision.

Be patient and continue to show her the true fruit of the Catholic Church which is kindness, love and charity for our fellow man.

I would not recommend speaking with those who identify as “ex-Catholic” about your faith journey unless and until you are settled in and have some background and deeper knowledge. It’s easy to get confused by others who are misled, confused, angry or antagonistic towards the Church. They often give “partial truths” that can sound convincing if you don’t know how to look deeper, but they are generally missing (or leaving out) vital information that they (and you) may or may not possess. In my experience, many of those who have left the Catholic faith do not really understand the faith they left. But at this point, I wouldn’t try to tell them that! :wink:

Catholicism is about having and maintaining a good relationship with God.

If I truly love God, I should want to show my love for Him in my actions and choices–not to take Him or His Promises for granted, right? If I love God, do I ignore the needs of His Children, my neighbors? Knowing He has given me everything, do I neglect to do the bare minimum of those things He has asked of me? Is that what a good friendship, a loving relationship is like?

If I truly believe what I claim to believe, I should want to live it, shouldn’t I? Naturally, that means I will try to do loving things over non-loving things, try to choose virtue over vice, and try to do good and avoid sin.

It’s not about earning anything–it’s simply about loving. Love is in our actions, worship, sacrifices, words, right choices, obedience, and beliefs. All things that might also be called “works.”

Devotions and even prayers to saints (including Mary) are not strictly necessary for salvation. Devotions, medals, rosaries, novenas, etc., are tools to help us. Again, it’s about relationship. It’s not strictly necessary to get to know your spouse’s friends and relatives in order to know your spouse better–but it’s a simple way to see him or her from another perspective, and to learn more about him/her. In the same way, we’re encouraged to get to know the friends of God, and they will help us to become closer to God. (And it is only through God’s authority that they can help us at all.) These devotions are optional ways for us to grow in our faith, in love, and in service to God.

Penance is about making up for our mistakes and getting ourselves going in the right direction again in the relationship. Again, not strictly necessary, but why wouldn’t you want to try to make up to the One you love after you have offended Him and He has graciously forgiven you? If I break a neighbor’s window, I should be sorry (repent), go admit to it (confess), and let’s say he forgives me. Now, technically, that’s all that is required of me, right? Yet, as a Christian who is called to love, should I leave it at that… or should I perhaps also help clean it up and maybe offer to fix or replace the window if I am able? That’s penance. :wink:

I pray you find encouragement in your journey. Will :gopray2: for you and for your mother.

Chesterton will agree that we can’t let getting out of bed count for anything!

  • “Daybreak is a never-ending glory; getting out of bed is a never ending nuisance.” -

Works are a small part of the picture.

With my return to the Church last July, I have discovered that when you love God, works really are not much work. :wink: A life lived trying to do the next right thing is very satisfying. :cool:

By the way…I’ve never seen a statistic, but I bet that 50% of Catholics aren’t sure what a scapular is, and 99% have never tried one on. :slight_smile:

From the Journey of the Mind to God by Saint Bonaventure

Mystical wisdom is revealed by the Holy Spirit

Christ is both the way and the door. Christ is the staircase and the vehicle, like the throne of mercy over the Ark of the Covenant, and the mystery hidden from the ages. A man should turn his full attention to this throne of mercy, and should gaze at him hanging on the cross, full of faith, hope and charity, devoted, full of wonder and joy, marked by gratitude, and open to praise and jubilation. Then such a man will make with Christ a pasch, that is, a passing-over. Through the branches of the cross he will pass over the Red Sea, leaving Egypt and entering the desert. There he will taste the hidden manna, and rest with Christ in the sepulcher, as if he were dead to things outside. He will experience, as much as is possible for one who is still living, what was promised to the thief who hung beside Christ: Today you will be with me in paradise.

For this passover to be perfect, we must suspend all the operations of the mind and we must transform the peak of our affections, directing them to God alone. This is a sacred mystical experience. It cannot be comprehended by anyone unless he surrenders himself to it; nor can he surrender himself to it unless he longs for it; nor can he long for it unless the Holy Spirit, whom Christ sent into the world, should come and inflame his innermost soul. Hence the Apostle says that this mystical wisdom is revealed by the Holy Spirit.

If you ask how such things can occur, seek the answer in God’s grace, not in doctrine; in the longing of the will, not in the understanding; in the sighs of prayer, not in research; seek the bridegroom not the teacher; God and not man; darkness not daylight; and look not to the light but rather to the raging fire that carries the soul to God with intense fervor and glowing love. The fire is God, and the furnace is in Jerusalem, fired by Christ in the ardor of his loving passion. Only he understood this who said: My soul chose hanging and my bones death. Anyone who cherishes this kind of death can see God, for it is certainly true that: No man can look upon me and live.

Let us die, then, and enter into the darkness, silencing our anxieties, our passions and all the fantasies of our imagination. Let us pass over with the crucified Christ from this world to the Father, so that, when the Father has shown himself to us, we can say with Philip: It is enough. We may hear with Paul: My grace is sufficient for you; and we can rejoice with David, saying: My flesh and my heart fail me, but God is the strength of my heart and my heritage for ever. Blessed be the Lord for ever, and let all the people say: Amen. Amen!


Hmm, I don’t know if I’d bet the over or under on that. I bet those percentage are pretty close.


Catholicism is about living the Christian life and that encompasses all of life.

Family life, Marriage, Sex, Ethics, Philosophy, Prayer, Spiritual reading, spiritual music, Sacred art and iconography.

You can spend your whole day with God in everything you do.

But it is more than belief in an existence of a higher power specifically Jesus it means you BELIEVE and live by BELIEF.

A summary of Catholic Church teaching on salvation can be found at Galatians 5:6. The Catechism talks about “merit” and because of the common usage of that word a lot of people misunderstand what the Church means when it uses it. Essentially the only reason our works have any value is due to the “charity of Christ” and their attachment to grace(i.e. gracious merit’). To say we can work our way to heaven on a basis of strict merit is Pelagian and not what the Church teaches, though many are taught that it does. Religions often misrepresent one another by misunderstandings.

Jennifer132 #1
I emailed my mom about my choice this weekend. She is an ex-Catholic, confirmed in the Church, now a devout Protestant. She said she couldn’t be more devastated with my choice. That it was a mistake, and that Catholicism is all about working for your salvation. She mentioned penance, praying to Mary and several devotions like wearing a scapular or sacred heart pin, or Saint necklace and said that they were “works”. In what sense is she right or wrong here?

The fundamental error is that she has been conned into feeling “once saved, always saved” which denies the reality of Christ’s teaching.

St Paul specifically teaches that we are not “saved” but REDEEMED, for by His Crucifixion, death and Resurrection, Jesus has REDEEMED us. So long as one realises that we are not “saved” in this life, we have to listen to St Paul in that what is lacking is our co-operation. **That is precisely why St Paul teaches: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” (Philippians 2:12). **We don’t achieve salvation in one fell swoop by accepting Christ as our personal saviour as some are misled to feel.

Our salvation depends on our cooperation in believing and acting as best we know in doing good and avoiding evil. Jesus redeemed us (opened Heaven), we have to play our part to be saved. As St Paul teaches: “But I chastise my body, and bring it into subjection lest perhaps, when I have preached to others, I myself should become a castaway.” (1Cor 9:27).And again: “Wherefore he who thinks that he stands, let him take heed lest he fall.” (1 Cor 10:12). Yet again, “And we exhort you not to receive the grace of God in vain.” (2 Cor 6:1).

As stated by Paul, what is lacking for our salvation is what only we can do, for the sake of His Body which is the Church. Christ was acting for the whole human race, not instead of, not as a substitute. “He bore our sins in His own Body on the Cross.” (1Pet. 2:29). What did Paul say must happen because Christ is the one mediator? “Supplication, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men” (1Tim 2:1-5). Thus we are all called to be co-redeemers. [See *Christ In Eclipse, Frank Sheed, Sheed & Ward, 1978, p 105-108).

“It is not those who say to Me, ‘Lord, Lord’, who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the person who does the will of My Father in heaven.” (Mt 7:21). When asked “What must I do to have eternal life?” Jesus answered, “Keep the commandments.” (Mt 19:16-17).

No one is “saved” until they have responded to the redemption of Jesus by cooperating with Him to supply what was lacking in His afflictions – when we walk in good works (Eph 2:10).** As St James teaches: “Faith without works is dead.” (See Jam 2:14-26).

It is about A Work, but that one was performed by Jesus. Our portion is participation in His work, and acceptance of His offered grace to us demonstrated by our actions.

Good luck with your journey!


When I was Protestant, my beliefs were ideas that we celebrated on Sunday and sometimes midweek. As a Catholic, I LIVE my faith daily, and as such, there’s a lot to do! The faith influences every part of every day, if we’re really living it. If you want to call that “works”, so be it - but we know that alone is not the road to salvation. It’s the why behind the works that make them have any efficacy - dedicating our works to the Lord’s work. I don’t call it works; I call it living as Jesus has called me.

The problem is that Protestants believe that we are saved by works alone, apart from grace, apart from faith, and apart from Jesus. Let me explain.

In the Protestant mind, the reason why works don’t save us is because we are sinful. If we were not sinful, then works would save us. So in the Protestant mind, works do in fact save us, the real issue is that Protestants think we cannot do them good enough to get to heaven. So the “solution” they propose is that God lowers his standard and has Jesus live a lifetime of good works in our place (which they call "Christ’s Righteousness) and then impute this ‘lifetime of good works’ to us so that we are “covered by Christ’s righteousness” in the sight of God. Then when God looks at us, He sees us as if we lived a lifetime of good works and thus lets us into Heaven. Similarly, they believe that since our sins cause us to deserve being damned to hellfire that Jesus was damned to hellfire in our place (they call this Penal Substitution). So as you can see, the Protestant view of salvation is 100% works based, the catch is that they believe Jesus had to do it for us because we were unable to. And this is why they believe salvation cannot be lost, because God never looks at our sinful works, we are covered by Jesus the whole time. (While Protestants use terms like “Grace” and “Faith” and such, they ONLY use these to mean “Jesus did it all in our place”, which is contrary to the Biblical/Catholic meaning of these same words.)

In the Catholic mind, salvation is about restoring a broken relationship, which is why Paul says salvation comes by way of “reconciliation” and “adoption”. We don’t work to become adopted. However as God’s children, we are called to grow and mature into well formed adults, which is why we do devotions, liturgy, etc. Not to ‘get saved’ or ‘stay saved’ but rather so that we can actually grow up. Salvation is about a personal relationship with Jesus, so just like in a marriage we know that good works help strengthen the marriage while evil works tend to weaken and harm the marriage. That is why we avoid evil works. Mortal sin is when we basically say we would prefer some earthly pleasure instead of being in relationship with Jesus, and this is why we have Confession. For the Protestant, since salvation is not about relationship, this is why good/evil works dont affect their standing before God because God doesn’t view them as in a relationship but rather more of a business transaction that is completed upon the moment of conversion.

For the Protestant, getting into heaven is about scoring an A+ on your good works test. But for the Catholic and the Bible, getting into heaven is about being invited to a wedding banquet. You don’t get invited to a wedding just because you’re a good person, or have a good job or have a PhD, but rather you get invited to a wedding if you are a friend of the bride/groom. So salvation for Catholics is about becoming a friend of the Groom, knowing that we have an invitation to the wedding, not about scoring a perfect grade on a school test.

Jennifer132. You mentioned of your Mom with parenthesis mine . . .

She said she couldn’t be more devastated with my choice (of becoming Catholic). That it was a mistake, and that Catholicism is all about working for your salvation. She mentioned penance, praying to Mary and several devotions (saying) that they were “works”. In what sense is she right or wrong here?

First of all . . .

“Devotions” are optional items and are irrelevant. Protestants have devotions too (some might read an excerpt of “Chicken Soup For The Soul” every morning for example).

Also . . .

I would very respectfully (I’m sure you will Jennifer132, this is your Mom we are talking about here but I’ll say “respectfully” here anyway as others are reading and they MAY not be as kind as you with their mothers) explain that our faith, hope, and charitable works in a justifying sense, are ALL gifts of grace.

Again, emphasize that your “works” as a Christian ARE . . . a Grace. And you are called to cooperate with God’s grace or “WORK TOGETHER” WITH CHRIST as 2nd Corinthians 6:1 commands.

2nd CORINTHIANS 6:1 (RSV) 1 Working together with him, then, we entreat you not to accept the grace of God in vain.

In the next post, I will dig up a few examples of GOD WORKING in you and through you (as your Mom is going to ask you for Biblical evidence of this).

Remember. These works that concern justification are GRACES and are different than works done on your own (even though the may APPEAR the same).

Also assert to her that we as Catholics affirm the NECESSITY of faith in our ongoing justification.

Sometimes Protestants (and some Catholics and some ex-Catholics) mistakenly think Catholics assert “works” instead of “faith” when in truth, neither faith or works apart from special grace can save us, but both faith and works united to grace are necessary in the Christian life.

So I will, as I said, dig up some Biblical examples of GRACE works or God working in you and through you.

Grace works vrs. works on your own is an important distinction. Once a Protestant gets that concept down though, it makes your discussions much more fruitful.

God bless.


That’s rough my friend. I’ll keep you in my prayers so that you never go off on your Mom for something like that.

As for her allegations …there are a lot of reasons that some people say that. She clearly never really understood her Catholic faith.

Here’s some links from CA that will help you and you might also email these links to your Mom or print them out and get them to her so she can get a better understanding and maybe get better with your conversion.
Born Again - The Bible Way
The Hard Work of Faith
God’s Grace and Good Works
Faith and Works
Holiness of the Work

I grew up in the church during the 50s and I know I never understood much of anything about my faith in spite of going to 12 years of Catholic school and lots of religion classes. It was only after someone from a Bible study challenged me for using a Catholic Bible that I really started to study and understand my faith. (See My Testimony) Perhaps your mom has had a similar experience because she is dead wrong about Catholicism being nothing but works.

I certainly pray much (a work), read and study my Bible, (a work) and do charitable things (works) and go out of my way to evangelize others because I know it’s important for their souls too. (another work), but I know that not one single thing of all that will save me. I don’t do it to be saved…I do it because i know it’s what Our Blessed Lord Jesus Christ has commanded of me and obeying Him shows my love for Him (a work) and that is what being a Christian is all about

Oh and because she will no doubt question your assurance of salvation, let me share with you one more link and a very important insight to share with her.
Assurance of Salvation?

What To Say

“Are you saved?” asks the Fundamentalist. The Catholic should reply: “As the Bible says, I am already saved (Rom. 8:24, Eph. 2:5–8), but I’m also being saved (1 Cor. 1:18, 2 Cor. 2:15, Phil. 2:12), and I have the hope that I *will be *saved (Rom. 5:9–10, 1 Cor. 3:12–15). Like the apostle Paul I am working out my salvation in fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12), with hopeful confidence in the promises of Christ (Rom. 5:2, 2 Tim. 2:11–13).”

If it was good enough for St. Paul then it’s good enough for me…and you…and your Mom.
**Philippians 2:12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;

Here’s another way to look at it in the Old Testement God saves his people time and time again.

His people rejoice and love him then stab him in the back and immediately go back to fornicating, worshiping idols as though they were alive and believing in false gods.

God removes his protection and his people become enslaved by some new evil nation until they repent and are freed from their oppression.

But God only ever forgives and frees his people after they repent.

Jesus Christ was God’s last rescue mission he is the ultimate sacrificial offer for our sins and the last act of mercy from the heavenly Father.

Similiar we rejoicec, we love God but we stray from time to time and when we wish to we can beg for forgiveness and God forgives us and frees us from our oppresors the Demons and Satan the World and the Flesh.

If we follow his commandments then we won’t be enslaved by the evil spirits or to our fleshly urges or the ways of this world.

Not all that say Lord, Lord are righteous Jesus explains this.

It’s easy to say you believe but it is harder to live by that belief and be more than a man or a woman but to act on our creators likeness in which we are made in and immitate our master Jesus Christ.

It is work very hard work and St Jude Thadeus the apostle and cousin of our Lord says in his epistle faith without works is dead.

You can point out these factors to others doubting you since the New Testament is the fulfillment of the Old Testament.

The whole story of the OT is that God created us in his image and he wishes us to be perfect and virtuous like himself and he loves us and will protect and save us from our enemies if we trust in him and follow his commandments and when we fail we only need reepent and he will bring us back into his fold.

The Old Testament is all about reconciliation.

No, we cannot earn salvation, but we are not held blameless for our actions.

Reconcile Sola Fide (faith alone) with Matthew 25 (sheeps and goats), the over 100 verses about repenting or penance, or verses about God’s judgement. Why repent if all you need is faith?

Why would the Lord say - when you did this for the least of these, my brethren, you did it for me?

Jesus commanded us to feed the hungry.

Then, look at the newness of the sola fide doctrine which was invented by Martin Luther 1,500 years after Christ. It’s not even found in the bible.

Wearing a scapular doesn’t save us from sins and no one thinks that. Wearing the brown scapular is a devotional practice related to the Carmelite religious order. It requires specific daily prayers (e.g The Little Office) and living like Jesus and Mary - e.g. With compassion for others. I would say it’s meant to strengthen one’s spiritual life. It is believed that the Virgin Mary revealed this practice to Saint Simon Stock in a vision.

Prayers ascending for your journey :thumbsup:

Would it be fair to say your mom didn’t leave the Catholic Church because Catholics do a lot of good works? Certainly she is not opposed to good works… true?

Personally, Id love to hear what first got you interested in the Catholic Church. You are coming home to the ONLY Church Our Lord established. For your journey, here is a quick condensed history of the 1st 400 years of the Catholic Church. #[FONT=&quot]34 , all the internal links in that link are operational

To your questions

*]working for your salvation: Your mom is not correct. This is from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC). That is so you know, the official teaching of the Church, and not my or someone else’s personal opinion


*]penance, praying to Mary and several devotions like wearing a scapular or sacred heart pin, or Saint necklace and said that they were "works"
*]praying to Mary

As an additional note:

when you select a paragraph within those links to read, if you want to enter the Catechism at that paragraph, for example 1674 select under that particular paragraph Enter the Catechism at this paragraph to pick up the context of thought

It maybe premature at this point, but welcome home Jennifer.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit