Tuesday October 18, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (2 Timothy 4:10-17b) Gospel (St. Luke 10:1-9)
Over the past week or so, we have been hearing the point from Saint Paul in his Letter to the Romans that we are saved by faith. Now what we hear in Saint Luke’s Gospel is Jesus telling us that the laborer deserves his payment. This is what the Church calls “merit.” The Church tells us that we have to have both faith and works, not the works of the law as we had talked about last week, but good works, salvific works. Salvific works means “works that lead to salvation.” So these are things like prayer, acts of charity that are done out of love for God and true love for neighbor, doing the things according to our state in life out of love for God. A work of salvation is something that has a supernatural motive. It is not just doing something nice for somebody in order to get some sort of selfish gain, in order for someone to think well of you, or whatever it might be, but rather it is something that is designed to move someone toward salvation. These works, the Church teaches us, are required and there is merit involved. Merit is the payment, if you will, that one deserves for having done a certain work. If you look at it on the natural level, your paycheck is the merit that you have earned for the work you have done. But in this case, God is the one who gives the payment: an increase in grace, an increase in glory, a greater love for God and for neighbor. These are the kinds of things that are going to be the reward we receive for having cooperated with God in His work.
Now the important thing of understanding this is that oftentimes Catholics are accused of thinking that they can earn their way to heaven. That is exactly wrong. There is no salvation without faith. It is only by faith that we are saved, but not faith alone; it is faith and works. We cannot earn our way to heaven. Heaven is something which is supernatural. That means it is beyond what is natural for us and, therefore, it is beyond our ability to be able to achieve. Even Our Lady, who never once sinned in her entire life, did not deserve to go to heaven. She did not earn her way to heaven. If from this point forward you did not sin once for the rest of your life, you still could not deserve to go to heaven. It is not something that anyone deserves or earns; it is a free gift of God. And so the idea that we think we can earn our way to heaven is something which is actually directly against the teaching of the Church. The Church teaches that we have to cooperate with the grace of God and do these works, these works of salvation, these works of charity, out of love of God and love of neighbor. These works will obtain for us an increase in grace and an increase in glory, but they are not earning our way to heaven. That is what we need to be very clear about.
We are saved through faith in Jesus Christ, not through any kind of empty works of the law and not even through good works. But the good works are required of us because if we are going to say that we have faith in Jesus Christ then (as we have seen many, many times over) that means we have to believe in every single thing that Jesus taught and everything that He is. And at the very center of His teaching is a new commandment: to love God and to love neighbor. So we have to have faith, but we have to have charity. And that charity is going to be rewarded because, after all, as the Lord Himself makes clear: The laborer deserves his wage.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.