Love is a verb

Readings for September 16, 2018

Isaiah 50:5-9
Psalm 116
James 2:14-18
Mark 8:27-35

www.usccb.org/bible/readings/

Some of my Catholic brothers and sisters have complained that the Protestant faith doesn’t require action from it’s followers. According to this line of thought, Protestants need only to make a claim of belief in order to be saved, living life on earth however one chooses because, once saved, always saved.

The counter from some of my Protestant brothers and sisters is that the Catholic faith focuses too much on actions and doesn’t do enough to instill true faith in it’s followers. According to this line of thought, rather than trusting the grace of God we Catholics “earn” salvation, using the beads of the rosary like an abacus that totals up heaven points. If true, our self interest, rather than a love of God, drives our actions. 

At first glance, St. James seems to lean on the Catholic argument for earning salvation. “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?” he writes. However, it is important not to oversimplify the complexity of his message.

It’s true that James argues for examining an individual’s behavior after they proclaim their belief in Jesus as Lord and Savior. But he never pits belief against actions the way that some of my Catholic and Protestant brothers and sisters have. Rather, he says that they are interconnected whereby a lived faith cannot have one without the other. James asserts that the person with faith but without works professes a lifeless faith. The opposite could be similarly argued. If a person seems to act charitably but does so without faith they produce a lifeless work. Rather than empty faith or empty works, James’ premise is that the real power comes in combining the two to create the verb love.

Jesus lays out the path to salvation. “Deny yourself. Take up your cross. Follow me.” It is, for certain, a difficult path to consider and one that is unsustainable without a belief that Jesus is the Christ. He warns about suffering and dying for the gospel. And he tells me I need to live for something other than my own needs. These instructions are a clear call to action. Yet they cannot be done with any authenticity without being done in love.

Telling my wife, “I love you” and then letting her do all the work at home and with the kids makes my sentiment hollow. To truly live out the love I profess for my wife, I need to show her I love her by my actions. Conversely, if I help out around the house and with the kids but do so with a grimly dutiful attitude, my actions are loveless and hollow. Similarly with God, I must both profess my love and faith for Him in church, and consciously act with that love outside of it. Short of doing so, what I say or do will be hollow.

Personally, I do not want to live a hollow life. I want to feel the joy of this life flow through me no matter what my day may bring. And only in love can I “consider it pure joy” when I face hardships. (James 1:2) Only in love, in letting go of myself, living the love of Christ with others around me, offering to carry their cross even as I struggle with my own, will I find salvation. Not because I’ve “earned” heaven, but because I’ve lived grace. Pure joy is only possible with a faith that is not dead but is lived in an active love.

Lord Jesus, you are the Christ. You are the Word made flesh, manifesting the grace of God the Father so that I might live in pure joy. Make my heart burn for love of you and for love in serving others. I ask this in your name, who sits at the right hand of God the Father and reigns in unity with God the Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen

 

15 thoughts on “Love is a verb

    1. Thank you. If you go to any of the main pages (from the pull-down menu on the Home Page), there should be a “follow” button. As a WordPress blogger, that should be all you need to do. If you’re not signed in to WordPress, you click on the follow and it will send you an email to verify your identity.

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  1. Tim, you expressed very well and very profound and complex teaching.

    Thank YOU so very much.

    My Bride and I recently celebrated our 51st wedding anniversary; be assured that selflessness is critical to make THAT happen as you beautifully pointed out.

    God Bless you and your ministry Tim,
    Patrick

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    1. Thank you for your very kind words. Happy Anniversary! My wife and I will celebrate 32 this week — mere rookies compared to you!
      Peace Patrick.

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  2. Awesome post, Tim! I basically feel the same way. Works alone don’t save, but faith is dead without them; if we are baptized in the Holy Spirit, it only makes sense that the fruits of the spirit would grow in us.

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  3. Protestants presume Catholics believe they must “earn” their salvation by doing good works. However, Catholics do not believe that our salvation is something to “work for” but rather “work out” by the grace of God in and through the merits of Christ. Ephesians 2:8-10 and Philippians 2:12, among many other verses, confirm ancient Catholic teaching.

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  4. What you’ve said here seems to be the key: “Personally, I do not want to live a hollow life. I want to feel the joy of this life flow through me no matter what my day may bring. And only in love can I “consider it pure joy” when I face hardships. (James 1:2) Only in love, in letting go of myself, living the love of Christ with others around me, offering to carry their cross even as I struggle with my own, will I find salvation. Not because I’ve “earned” heaven, but because I’ve lived grace. Pure joy is only possible with a faith that is not dead but is lived in an active love.”

    Many of us Christians get stuck in an either-or conversation about “salvation,” just because we can make verbal and conceptual distinctions between “two” things that are one practical reality, as if what happens to us in life after death is not a continuation of what is already taking place in life before death.

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    1. For human reasons, we find words and descriptions that divide us from others. Seems inconceivable that a triune God, wholly unique and wholly One, could not have two things “that are one practical reality.” God is a both/and God, not an either/or God.

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  5. Awesome post …love this quote of yours “Not because I’ve “earned” heaven, but because I’ve lived grace. Pure joy is only possible with a faith that is not dead but is lived in an active love.”
    Thank you ….Namaste’ and Blessings always…

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  6. Amen to that! I like the way C.S. Lewis framed this issue in Mere Christianity:

    “[To have Faith in Christ] means, of course, trying to do all that He says. There would be no sense in saying you trusted a person if you would not take his advice. Thus if you have really handed yourself over to Him, it must follow that you are trying to obey Him. But trying in a new way, a less worried way. Not doing these things in order to be saved, but because He has begun to save you already. Not hoping to get to Heaven as a reward for your actions, but inevitably wanting to act in a certain way because a first faint gleam of Heaven is already inside you.”

    In my own experience, living the Christian life initially may very well feel like an awkward attempt at merely obeying rules, and much internal struggle may occur regarding the relationship between faith and works. But as you persevere, somewhere along the way you begin to realize that unbeknownst to you, you’ve begun to actually love this Jesus who we try so imperfectly to follow. The more we begin to love, however weak it may be at first (I think that’s where I am), we begin to catch glimpses interiorly of this truth wherein it begins to sense, even if in a way we can’t articulate. At least that’s been my experience thus far.

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    1. Thank you. Very well stated.
      My very old, very Italian, very New York aunt and uncle had a framed quote in their kitchen. It said, quite simply, “I do not love you because I need you. I need you because I love you.” It was profound in that it doesn’t negate “need” with regard to love, but, rather, it turns it around. It’s like what you quoted from CS Lewis, “a first faint gleam” is what drives the love. We need Jesus because we love him. “If you love me you will keep my commands.” (John 14:15) Order of operation matters.
      Peace Steven.

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