St. Paul uses a word we don’t often hear.
A moment ago, we heard it four times: justification.
We often use that word to mean "excuse" or explanation:
At school, the principal might ask you,
"So, what’s your justification for being late?"
What St. Paul means is something different:
how you and I are made just or righteous.
Notice what else he said:
None of us is "justified"—made just—
"by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ."
As Catholics, we are strong on "works"—
mercy and charity, like the Bethany Center;
social activism, like the prolife movement.
And, we have lots of religious "works"—
that is, rituals and requirements:
Mass every Sunday and holy day;
daily prayer and acts of penance;
a season of penance every Lent.
Yet St. Paul says: we are not justified by our works,
but by faith in Jesus Christ.
I know what you are thinking.
"Wait a minute. Doesn’t Scripture also say,
‘faith without works is dead’"?
And, yes it does.
So, what do we make of this?
It is Faith that saves us, but not faith alone;
because how can genuine Faith in Jesus
fail to result in action? In a changed life?
And, in terms of our practices as Catholics:
our rules and practices have meaning,
because they show us how to live our faith;
they give it shape.
Still, as St. Paul said: the starting-point is faith;
the heart of the matter is faith.
Many of us like to go to Home Depot,
so we can "do it yourself."
But that’s not how it works.
The starting-point is faith—faith in Jesus Christ!
So, now, you might ask,
"all right, just what do you mean by faith?"
And, may I say? You ask really good questions!
To answer, let me say two things.
First: faith is an act of self-gift, of trust, of surrender.
Faith is a whole lot more than a mere belief,
such as: "I believe Jesus exists";
Faith is a choice, a radical choice:
I turn myself over to Jesus.
That is what the woman in the Gospel did,
and that is what Paul described:
"I have been crucified with Christ."
So, faith is surrender…
and second, faith is a gift.
Don’t think that first, you have faith,
and then, God responds with his grace.
It’s the other way round:
first, God gives you grace,
so that you realize how much you need him;
then, you choose; you say: "Jesus, I trust in you!"
or you say, "No, Jesus, I think I’m doing okay on my own."
Do you think you simply chose to come here today.
It’s not that simple.
God was acting to make it happen,
so that you would receive this invitation:
Will you put your faith in Jesus Christ?
Will you surrender your will to his?
Will you ask for the gift of faith,
allow the Holy Spirit to lead,
go wherever he says, do what he prompts,
and give up whatever must be given up?
You are here because
God wanted you to receive that invitation,
and I have just given it!
So when I said, God acts first, with his grace—
this is how it works!
You and I received the gift of his justification in baptism;
but we came to a point where we chose to make it our own;
and we need to renew it, constantly:
that is why we go to confession,
and that is why we need the Eucharist.
This is our moment to do a check—where do we stand?
Can we truly say, with Paul:
"It is no longer I who lives, but Christ who lives in me"?