Friday, February 17, 2012

Friday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

(James 2:14-24.26; Mark 8:34-9:1)

It seems self-evident that the great non-Christian humanists – Socrates, Saladin, Maimonides, and Gandhi -- have a place in eternal life. Yet even a century ago most Christians would have despaired of their salvation because they were never baptized. Of course, who’s in and who’s out of heaven is up to God, but since Vatican II Catholics, at least, are eager to give people such as these the benefit of the doubt. The first reading today may be employed for argumentation.

Of course, James is not making a case for salvation of non-Christians. He is merely saying that a professed faith alone is unworthy of eternal life. One must animate that faith by works of charity in order to find salvation. Even in his day, James was only refuting radical interpretations of St. Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith. To believe and not to love, even Paul would admit, is as sterile reading a book in an unknown language. Today James’ line of thinking is stretched backward. Works of charity imply faith in a God who commands love of neighbor.

We should not presume salvation on the basis of one act of kindness just as we cannot exclude it because one lacks a profession of faith. We are wise to look for coherency and consistency. When we practice charity regularly, we likely believe sincerely.