From The Assistant Pastor’s Desk
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Things are in full swing now at St. Ignatius! The Rite for Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) started up this past week, and this group will continue to meet regularly and learn about the faith until Easter, when those who choose to may enter the Church through the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation. Of course, school has started as well and has hit its stride by now. Please keep our students and those who are considering entering the Church in your prayers throughout the year—that the faith might grow in each of them and, in turn, within our whole community!
This faith that we pray for is the necessary foundation for our lives and for our community. Because without faith, we are left without real meaning or purpose. Without faith, a Catholic parish becomes a mere community center—and not usually a great one at that. Without faith, a Catholic school becomes a mere private school—and one that sends mixed messages about the most important questions in life. In other words, without faith, our works would not produce the fruit they are meant to produce: our works would be dead. So we must continuously pray for the gift of faith, as the apostles did—Lord, increase our faith!—or perhaps as that desperate father did when asking Christ to help his son—I do believe, Lord; help my unbelief!
But just as our works, without faith, would be dead, so also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead. St. James reminds us of this in our Epistle this week. Belief in God is necessary, but it has to go hand in hand with love for God: a love which expresses itself in good works. It is not enough to say with our lips: Lord, Lord! We must say it also with our lives. If we believe God to be Lord of our lives, then our lives should make that obvious.
St. James gives an extreme counterexample, saying: Even the demons believe—and shudder. If faith is simply belief in the existence of God and in His goodness, then even demons have faith. But that doesn’t seem right to say at all, and it’s not: because that faith is a dead faith. When we speak of faith in its fullest sense, we are speaking about living faith, or, as St. Paul expresses it, faith working through love. This is a faith which challenges us, which demands something of us.
So often, “faith” understood only as belief becomes an excuse for people to live as they will, even in contradiction to the teachings of Christ. They say that faith means recognizing our sinfulness and our complete dependence on God’s mercy—and that to focus on doing good and avoiding evil would be the same as trying to “earn” our salvation rather than trusting in that mercy. This argument wins many over because it is not an outright lie: it is the twisting of a truth. God’s grace is primary, and without it we can do nothing. But Christ is unequivocally clear on this matter: If you love me, follow my commandments. And, in another place: be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
We firmly believe that God offers every person who receives the gift of faith a further grace: the grace of sanctification, which allows us to continuously grow in holiness. Whether or not we cooperate with that grace is the element of human freedom which God continues to give us, it is the challenge that faces us in the life of faith. May each of us take up that challenge, confident that God can transform us by His grace in ways that we never could by our own effort.
Yours in Christ,