Faith without works is dead

(my homily from Sunday)

Faith without works is dead.

It’s one of those sayings that we’ve heard a lot. So many times, that it’s easy for it to go in one ear and out the other.

And even if we do try to grab it as it goes past, it can sound a little over done. Like every other “something-is-dead” pronouncement. Like St. James is being a little over dramatic – about the relationship between faith and works.

But really, he isn’t.

So what does it mean, that faith without works is dead?

It points us to the intimate connection of works to faith. That good works are the unavoidable product of a living faith.

As many of you know, I have the perfect cat. I say that, because Captain is a tuxedo cat, with mixed patches of black and white fur. Which makes him perfect, perfectly capable of shedding on anything.

My pants? They are tastefully accented with white cat hairs. My shirt? You guessed it, black cat hairs.

So what does cat hair have to do with faith and works?

Color-coordinated shedding is the unavoidable product of having the perfect cat. When the day comes that I am no longer brushing cat hair off my clothes, it will be undeniable proof that Captain is no longer with us.

So it is with faith and works.

When the day comes that our faith is not producing good works, it will be undeniable proof that our faith, our relationship with God, is dead.

Am I saying that we cannot do good things and help other people without faith? No.

What I am saying, what St. James is saying, is that good works are the unavoidable product of a living faith.

Just like cat hair is the unavoidable product of a living cat.

That if you have a living faith, it will produce good works. It’s just going to happen.

My mom has a little land over in Schuyler County. It’s too rough to farm, so it’s just a bunch of trees. I bring it up, because it has on it what we like to think of as a waterfall.

Really, it’s just a drip rock. Where a small stream of water drops about 15 feet into a pool, and then flows into a small creek.

A few years ago, I decided to find the source of that water.

So I hiked up the stream above the drip rock, and eventually I found the source. It’s a small spring. Where the water bubbles up out of the ground.

I put my foot on the spot where it was coming up, and the water stopped flowing for a moment.

Then I noticed something. The earth around where I put my foot down was very quickly getting water logged. In less than a minute after I stepped on it, the water had pooled enough that it started flowing towards the drip rock again. 

That drip rock is fed by a continuous spring. It’s going to flow no matter what. I can alter its course. But I cannot stop it.

Just like the relationship between faith and works.

If you have a living faith, it’s a continuous spring. It’s going to flow no matter what. You can alter its course. But you cannot stop it.

So where does this unstoppable drive come from?

It come from the relationship that is at the heart of our faith.

In any relationship, when someone matters to you, especially when you love them, you do things for them. Almost without thinking, you go out of your way for them.

It becomes a natural impulse.

Because that person matters to you, that relationship has changed you.

So it is with the greatest of all relationships, your relationship with God. When that relationship matters to you, it will change you. Those good works? They will be the things you do for God. They will become your natural impulse.

But let’s be clear about this.

The change in your natural impulse, drawing you towards good works, is no accident. It’s much more than just a byproduct, or even a good habit.

It’s a signpost. Pointing us towards heaven. And like all things that point us towards eternity, it works backwards.

Just as the Eucharist and Reconciliation work backwards to restore us to the state of grace that God always meant for us to live in, so it is with faith and works.

The works that flow out of faith work backwards, to bring us into the relationship with God that we were always meant to have.

The more you and I say yes to the works that flow from faith. The more that you follow the urgings of the Holy Spirit, to let your faith lead you into the good works that God is calling you to do.

The more that your good works will have an impact on you, as well as others.

Your own faith will be deepened. You will find yourself drawing ever closer to God.

And as you draw closer, you will start to look back and see the connections in your life. To notice how everything in your life has led you to this. How things in your past you thought were pointless, and even things you really don’t want to remember, are being used by God as your faith deepens. To do greater good for others, and even for you, than you could ever have guessed.

Until, at the end, you will be able to look back and say that God has always been working in your life, and through your life, from the very beginning. And you will be absolutely right.

Which can mean just one thing.

It’s time for you and me to roll up our sleeves. And get to work.

Sunday’s Readings

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