(National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception)
We are used to the idea that working hard helps us succeed. This could be in employment or at home or on the sports field. However, working hard at doing good in order to gain salvation does not follow this pattern. Works righteousness is the phrase used for this idea that salvation can be earned by doing good works. It is based on the improper understanding of St. James 2:14-26 which states faith without works is dead. But what makes faith alive? How do we consider our works so that we don’t fall into works righteousness, but instead go about our duties and tasks so that what we do is pleasing to God? St. John Henry Newman answers this question in his enlightening sermon, “Faith and Love.”
Newman writes, “And thus I answer the question concerning the connection of love and faith. Love is the condition of faith; and faith in turn is the cherisher and maturer of love; it brings love out into works, and therefore is called the root of works of love; the substance of the works is love, the outline and direction of them is faith.”
In this sermon, St. John Henry observes that there are many religious souls filled with faith, who do all things proper to the devout life, who fulfill all the religious acts in a dutiful way. But this kind of faith will not be complete unless it is rooted in love. He teaches, “Love then is the motion within us of the new spirit, the holy and renewed heart which God the Holy Ghost gives us.” It is this kind of love which brings life to our faith and to our works.
He further explains that faith is to love as religion is to holiness. Religion comes from without as Divine law whereas saying yes to this Divine law, acquiescing to it, comes from Love written upon our heart. “Love then is meditative, tranquil, pure, gentle, abounding in all offices of goodness and truth; and faith is strenuous and energetic, formed for this world, combating it, training the mind towards love, fortifying it in obedience . . . . ”
In this sermon St. Newman helps us understand faith as a living word. Since faith must come from and be rooted in the love of God, therefore it is faith without love that is dead. This might seem evident, but it is not. It is easy to go about our day, fulfilling our obligations, attending Mass, saying our prayers, volunteering, offering our suffering, but we must remember to stop and reflect often, “Why am I doing these things?” There is even the chance that we may develop pride in our religious acts. And this, warns John Henry, is a danger.
“O fearful lesson, to all those who are tempted to pride themselves in their labours, or sufferings, or sacrifices, or works! We are Christ’s, not by faith merely, nor by works merely, but by love . . . it is love makes faith, not faith love. We are saved, not by any of these things, but by that heavenly flame within us, which, while it consumes what is seen, aspires to what is unseen. Love is the gentle, tranquil, satisfied acquiescence and adherence of the soul in the contemplation of God; not only a preference of God before all things, but a delight in Him because He is God, and because His commandments are good;” We need the right dispositions of love and humility to understand this, for as St. Paul teaches in Galatians: “the only thing that counts is faith working through love.” (Gal 5:6[j1] ).
This flame of love that Christians possess comes from the Holy Spirit who was sent into the world after the Ascension of our Lord. The Holy Spirit is Uncreated Charity who pours into our hearts the love of God. At the Ascension of Our Lord and the Apostles gathered in prayer awaiting this precious Gift. Like the Apostles, we pray: Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Thy faithful and enkindle in them the fire of Thy love.