The following excerpt may help clarify things:
Did you know that this point you brought up is probably the biggest reason that keeps Catholic and Protestant churches divided, and yet, it is entirely based on one HUGE misunderstandings of what the Catholic Church taught and teaches.
We (Catholics and Protestants) believe, foundationally, the same thing about how someone “gets in” to Heaven, no matter what anyone (even a pastor, in this case) says.
***What the Catholic Church DOES NOT teach or believe about “faith and works":***Just to set the record straight on a couple of things:
[/list]The Catholic Church does not believe that people earn their way into Heaven through good works.
The Catholic Church does not teach that works are more important than faith, and it has never taught that concept.
St. Paul and St. James do not have different views on faith and works, they are completely in line with one another, they’re just focusing on different aspects of life and salvation. Any good Biblical scholar, Catholic or Protestant, can see that.
The Catholic Church does not believe in the concept of “once saved, always saved”. It is completely unbiblical that once we accept Christ as our Savior, nothing we do (no matter how bad or how sinful) can cost us our salvation. That is simply not true.
***What the Catholic Church DOES teach and believe about “faith and works”:***Read these two verses and ask yourself, do they contradict each other?
“For we consider that a person is justified by faith apart from works of the law” - Romans 3:28
“See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.” - James 2:24
They seem to disagree, right? Well, that’s what a lot of people think, but in actuality, they don’t. Sadly, entire religions have broken apart and God’s family has continued to sever ties because of this supposed contradiction.
St. Paul and St. James were not disagreeing (although it might appear, upon a quick glance that they are) but they are actually in complete agreement, though two sides of the same coin.
When Paul mentions “works” he is talking about observances of Jewish law, like circumcision, purification rituals, regulations on what foods to eat…that sort of thing.
When James mentions “works” he is talking about Christian corporal and spiritual works of mercy like those we are called and commanded to perform…like the Beatitudes (Matthew 5).
St. Paul is trying to explain to Jewish Christians that they are no longer bound to Jewish rituals and laws in order to be “justified” or “in right relationship” with God. St. James is trying to explain that just a mental acceptance and invitation of God “faith” is not the end, but the beginning to a life in Christ, one which must serve others in order to “bear fruit that would remain” (John 15), otherwise they’d be in trouble because “the dead are judged according to their deeds” (Rev. 20:12-13).
In a nutshell:
Paul is talking about faith as something cerebral, or “mental”.
James is talking about faith in action, faith working through love.
Paul is talking about “works” as Jewish ceremonial customs.
James is talking about “works” as Christian acts of charity (Beatitudes). Paul is talking about how to get into Heaven.
James is talking about how to live on Earth.
Faith and Works go together, and basically necessitate one another.
They are two sides of the same coin, and are not contradictory. St. Paul was a huge fan of active Christian charity as an expected by-product of adoptive salvation.
***Things to remember about faith and works:***A couple things that might prove helpful to you:
[/list]The phrase faith alone only appears once in the Bible (if it is an accurate translation of Bible): “See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” – James 2:24
How is that for irony?
Martin Luther added the word “alone” to Romans 3:28, in his German translation of the Bible – in order for the scriptures to agree with the theology he was promoting and teaching.
By the way, doing so goes against scripture directly, “I warn everyone who hears the prophetic words in this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book…” - Revelation 22:18
Martin Luther, even after he left the church, still believed strongly in the Sacramentality of Reconciliation, the worth of a strong devotion to Mary and in the real and true presence of Christ in the Eucharist. All of these are found in his personal letters, after he was censured and silenced from writing or speaking publicly by his own followers.