Therefore, we aspire to please [God]… For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense, according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil. (2 Cor 5:9-10)
At least since the Protestant Reformation, there has been much debate over what response to God is necessary for salvation. Protestants declare that faith alone is necessary for salvation, while it is said of Catholics that we hold both faith “and good works” to be necessary. What Catholics actually say is much more comprehensive. We speak of salvation, justification, and judgment such that a person is saved by grace, justified by faith, and judged by works. Evidence of this last claim is present throughout Sacred Scripture as in our quotation above from Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians taken from the second reading for this 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Paul is saying that in order to receive the compensation of heaven, we must first be judged by “what [we] did in the body” (i.e. in life). Considering this further, we know that while the mind “believes”, it is the body’s part to “act”. Hence, the criterion for Christ’s judgment is not faith alone, but good or bad actions performed through an earnest faith.
The wonderful thing about the judgment of Jesus is that it is a just and merciful judgment. Justice allows us to make our case before God by claiming how we served and loved others the way Jesus did on earth. Mercy allows us to approach the kingly court with sincerely contrite hearts, for having failed to meet the demands of God’s justice. However, we must never forget that there would be no salvation without God’s grace, and that we will be judged on how faithfully we invested this grace so as to offer a fruitful return to the Lord (Mt 25: 14-30).
In order to better grasp this notion, we have placed on our bulletin cover another painting by the Florentine, Giotto, entitled simply Charity (1306). Here we see the image of a woman as an allegory of charity. She is not charitable on her own power, but through the gift of faith, as she now reaches out to God for supernatural virtue. In fact, the abounding fruitfulness seen in her right hand has its source in what she receives from Christ Jesus in her left hand. Giotto has purposely shown this blessed movement of grace by painting an inferred diagonal – drawing our eye from Christ to the plentiful bowl. Further, God’s grace is so fertile that even the little that is given by Jesus results in so much bounty that it fills to overflow the bowl of Lady Charity – even accumulating a surplus that must be stored at her feet.
In order to gain the requisite charity needed to merit a good judgment before God, we must live a life of grace. Without grace, human activity is fruitless before God’s throne. God showers everyone with active grace to get us moving, but we need sacramental grace for sanctification. Baptism, Confession, Confirmation, and especially the Holy Eucharist – the sacrament of love – all strengthen our faith and our desire to perform those good works which are pleasing to God and efficacious toward salvation.
-Steve Guillotte, Director of Pastoral Services