Friday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time
(James 2:14-24.26; Mark 8:34-9:1)
Most people today would say that great non-Christian humanists like Socrates and Maimonides have a place in eternal life. Yet a century ago 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 ever since Vatican II Catholics 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 not enough to gain eternal life. One must animate that faith by works of charity. James is actually refuting radical interpretations of St. Paul’s doctrine of justification. But even Paul would admit that belief without love is as sterile as reading a book in an unknown language. Today the opposite claim is made: that good works are all that is required for salvation. How does this come about? Works of charity imply faith in God who commands love of neighbor.
We should not presume salvation because one performs random acts of kindness just as we cannot exclude it because another lacks a profession of faith. We are wise to look for coherency and consistency. When one practices charity regularly, he or she likely does so from a system of values that approximates faith in Jesus.