Having explored some of the "works" in the forms of the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy regarding how they relate to a saving Faith in Part One and having treated in Part Two the further "works" of that inner fundamental choice for God, the reception of the Sacraments, and the avoidance of sin, I now move on here towards further "works" which also each play a distinctive role in a saving Faith, showing how true and saving Faith is expressed in these "works" so we may apply them in order to attain everlasting life.
Category 5: Character Development
Of all of these categories, this more than any other, really is the bottom line of all that God seeks to do in our lives. Recall that God wishes to bring souls to Heaven to dwell there in eternal happiness with Him forever. If we could come into Heaven just as we are, with our pettiness, our faults, our foibles, our white lies (and worse), and all the other sins and imperfections of our present existence, Heaven would be as full of selfish and cheating persons as this earth is now. If ever there be any real evidence of God's love that can be seen by any and all today, it is His clear efforts towards befitting us for Heaven, the sort of effort only a loving Father could desire of His creatures.
Avoidance of sin is, after all, merely the converse of what is called for here, namely the seven virtues, which directly confront and vanquish the seven chief or deadly sins, one for one. But these virtues are not merely that one does not sin, but that one does do things (instead of and strictly alternative to sinning) that please God. But even here the "things" done are not references to the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, but rather the inner goodness and holiness that is itself supernatural, and yet which naturally brings about all of those works of mercy. The concern here is therefore not so much one of "doing" as it is one of "being."
In Adam, we are all born sinners, and thereafter all of us sin, at least to some degree. But God does not desire merely to forgive us sinners, but to bring us to the point that we are in all actuality no longer sinners. Though we will always have to deal with the sin nature in ourselves, and that even the righteous man "falls seven times daily," by gaining these precious virtues in our souls as God most truly desires and by heroically overcoming sin, we can at least be such that when our sin nature falls away and we go to meet our Maker, our souls will be found by Him to be filled with these virtues. All of this is what it means to be born of Christ. The birth itself maps to the baptism ("born of water and spirit"), but the life of Christ, as manifested and developed in the life of the Christian, is about these virtues which God so longs to teach and instill in all of us. This is the will of God, our sanctification. It is His number one priority for us, and everything God does in answering our prayers is keyed to this goal.
As I indicated, there are the Seven Virtues, which directly face the Seven Deadly and Capital sins, respectively:
1) Humility - by which one remains open to what others, and especially God, would have to say, preferring the opinions of others rather than their own
2) Kindness - by which we make every place we go a better place for our being there
3) Chastity - by which we show respect for each other and for the awesome power of creating new souls that God has placed in our custody
4) Charity - by which we truly care for others and for the cause of God, with true self-sacrificing zeal
5) Patience - by which we endure all the difficulties and challenges of this world and the people around us and their faults, all with a smile on our face
6) Diligence - by which we perform all of what is set before us to achieve and that God has put us here to do
7) Temperance - by which by which we guard the various appetites to insure that none of them gain an ascendancy over us
One should be able to see that humility is the cure for the disease of pride, and that kindness cures envy, chastity cures lust, charity cures greed, patience cures wrath, diligence cures sloth, and temperance cures gluttony. But as I said, these virtues are more than merely about not sinning. Each of them also has a positive aspect, something we actively do in addition to not doing the bad thing. As evidence of that, note how the sin of Pride, which runs counter to the virtue of Humility, is the chief of all sins, and yet it is the virtue of Charity, which runs counter to the sin of Greed, which is the chief of all virtues.
With humility, we can truly listen to others, and they know when we are listening and when we are not. With humility as acknowledge each person around us, even those that some classes of society have trained themselves to ignore as if they weren't there. With humility we are aware of our limitations, and only with such awareness of them can we work on them. With humility we do not force others to lie to us about how great we are.
The importance of kindness is so obvious as to be without any need to defend it. Every time we help a neighbor, do someone a favor, and so forth we do an act of kindness and who could dare to criticize that? Kindness is what shows to all that we truly care about them and desire the best for them. Kindness and charity are in fact actual duties of the Christian life, such that anyone who lacks them ought to doubt their own connection to the Faith.
Chastity preserves the sanctity of the most intimate aspects of our lives. Even the mere avoidance of sins against chastity requires effort, and such effort also provides for the practice and basis for this virtue to serve to protect anything and anyone which is in danger from the evil one. By it we protect our children, our spouses and families, and even our whole society from all the attacks and seductions the evil one would use to destroy them. Chivalry also finds its truest basis in chastity.
Charity is so central to the Christian Gospel as to be past any need to defend, and yet it was this feature of ancient Christianity which most shocked the ancient world. Where others would leave unwanted children and the poor to die in the streets, the ancient Christians took them all in, providing the fundamental basis for all charitable actions and organizations of any valid kind today. It is more than kindness and differs from it in that charity seeks what it is that God seeks for each person, whereas kindness seeks what the person wants (within the context of what is morally acceptable). God wants us to overcome sin and to be conformed to His image of perfection in His love, but achieving this is often independent from the things that we should wish for ourselves, even the good things. True charity for others loves them as God loves them, and labors for their own growth in the ways of God.
With patience, we forgive all the things that people do to us in their imperfections, even as God is patient with us in forgiving us the things we do before Him in our imperfections. How vital it is that we should be patient, for otherwise who could we ever have fellowship with. With patience, a person continues in the job when it is hard, or in a marriage that is not an easy one, with children who don't turn out as one would have hoped, with friends who let us down, and so forth. This is what keeps the people together as much as charity and kindness and humility, and which enables any society to exist as a society.
Diligence is so important to all that we do, again, though even non-Christians generally can see the value of it. Who would ever want to work with the results of shoddy workmanship or sloppy persons. Though in patience we endure such, with diligence we avoid requiring such patience from others. We must always be far more forgiving of others than we would require others to be forgiving of us, and where the former is patience, the latter is diligence. Also, there is due diligence by which we ascertain the truth of a matter and protect ourselves from the lies and mistakes of others.
With temperance, we not only avoid the sins of appetite but also become able to conserve our resources and become good stewards of whatever God gives us. With it we become able to manage our own affairs and the affairs of others who need our help and guidance in that. With it we can order our lives and live peaceably and without continuous drama and upheaval, at least all drama and upheaval that otherwise would have been caused by ourselves. With patience, we endure the drama caused by others; with temperance, we avoid causing drama for others.
There is another set of seven virtues known to the Church, though these substantially overlap with the seven virtues listed above. These seven virtues are:
1) Faith - our trust and belief in God and all that He has revealed to us
2) Hope - our trust and belief that God can and will be able to deliver us through our tribulations and ultimately save us
3) Love - the echo or response in our own lives of the love God has for us, such that others see God's love in us
4) Prudence - by which we do the most sensible things, practical and wise, by which our virtue of temperance is directly applied towards best managing our own affairs
5) Justice - which is the essence of fairness towards all, recognizing what all are entitled to, and what they must yet earn
6) Self-control - by which we restrict our actions to those which are right and good and productive
7) Fortitude - by which our right conduct endures the tests and trials of practical daily life
Faith, hope, and love are the three "Theological virtues" because they all stem directly from our relationship with God and God's own love for us. And of these, love is the greatest of all, since it will continue even into where faith and hope cease to be necessary, namely Heaven. Prudence, justice, self-control, and fortitude are the four "Cardinal virtues" because they are also essential to the Christian life and are what God (as would any responsible parent) desires to inculcate in us in order to befit us for Heaven. One should be able to see that prudence, justice, and fortitude taken together cover much of the same virtues as chastity, diligence, and temperance, and that Faith would be impossible to one who lacks humility. Still, this different list does emphasize different aspects of the Christian character that God seeks to mold in us.
Yet another list of the virtues is that which is known as the Seven Virtues, or the Seven Gifts of the Holy Ghost, which are:
1) Wisdom - our ability to apply what we know for the best interests of all
2) Understanding - our ability to listen to others and really comprehend their concerns and what they need from us
3) Counsel - the ability to know what is truly the best and most prudent course of action, so as to live it ourselves and recommend it to others
4) Fortitude - our ability to stand fast to what we know to be right despite whatever the costs may be
5) Knowledge - knowing and believing the things that God has revealed to us, in order that we may be specifically guided by that knowledge
6) Piety - by which our love of God is reflected in all that we think and say and do, and in how we think and say and do them
7) Fear of the Lord - which is our sobering respect for God Who is the one in charge and Who ultimately is to be appeased first and foremost
Then there is also the Nine or Twelve Fruits (depending on how you count them) of the Holy Ghost, which are:
1) Love - the Divine charity of God for all, present in our hearts.
2) Joy - our happiness in God, in knowing God loves us and truly wants what is best for us.
3) Peace - the serene knowledge that God is in control and will work all things that happen to be for our good.
4) Patience - our ready willingness to endure all trials and tribulations willingly and peaceably.
5) Kindness - by which we show God's care for others even in the things important to them as well as to Him.
6) Goodness - our imitation of God in our dealings with all in justice and fairness, kindness and mercy.
7) Faithfulness - by which we stand firmly and consistently with the Truth, always being there to be relied upon.
8) Mildness - by which our calm and peaceful answers turn away wrath, based on respect, justice, kindness, humility, and prudence
9) Self-control - by which all of our appetites are kept under control and our actions all kept rational
But if going by the twelve instead of the nine, the ninth is replaced by:
9) Faith - by which we really can believe in all that God has promised us and expects of us
10) Modesty - by which we avoid making a show of ourselves, whether through imprudent exposure of our flesh or through any other arrogant and prideful display
11) Continency - by which we refrain even from those things that may be lawful, when it is prudent and worthy, as further protection from the things that are unlawful
12) Chastity - by which we respect, appreciate, and defend the honor of the awesome power God has given us for the creation of souls
Some say that Virtue is its own reward, but such glib sayings overlook what the real meaning of virtue is. The root etymology of virtue, Virtus, means power. Virtue (including all of these virtues that God seeks to instill in us) is not about making us weak and dependent but indeed the very opposite, about making us powerful. This is not about power to bend the wills of others to our own will but about our own power over sin, power over our own natures, power to order our own lives as we know we ought, power to do good for others and for the cause of God, and the exercise of that power towards such ends.
But yes, this can also lead to power of the more conventional type. Realize here the fundamental distinction between a politician and a statesman. A politician is merely one who seizes by whatever means the office and ability to control the lives and behaviors of others. A statesman is one who has justly earned the right to such an office and ability through his eminent practice of all of these virtues.
Then there is also in all of this the role of the Church which exists to help us understand all these things, to know what we must do to be joined to Christ and grow in Him, and to empower us to live up to our resolve to be thus molded into the image of Christ, to be sanctified as God most centrally and powerfully desires of us. It is also important to realize that there is a world of difference trying to achieve these virtues from one's own limited human strength and will, versus allowing God to work these virtues into the lives of those who have chosen to become His saints. As they all come from God, one obtains them only from God, and by applying to God directly, both in prayer and through His Church.
All of this boils down to our relationship with God, namely that we are in a state of sanctifying Grace, that is, in the will of God, doing what God has put us here to do, loving, trusting, and obeying God. All of these virtues, without that love and trust and obedience and relationship with God, would be valueless, were such a thing attainable, which it is not. The whole essence here is the basis of justification, which is in turn the basis of salvation.
Category 6: Penitential Acts
It is a great Christian mystery. Why and how is it that the death of the Savior on the Cross (at our merciless human hands) occasioned the salvation of our human souls? Surely such a reprehensible behavior on the part of humanity towards its Creator should merit only our damnation. More sobering still is the realization that each of our own individual sins adds to the suffering of Christ on the Cross. This isn't just something some corrupt group of people did way back when; it is a crime that we are participants in whenever we sin. And yet that holy death instead bought us salvation. How is that?
It comes through the voluntary offering of Christ Himself. It wasn't merely that we killed God, but rather that God offered to suffer and pay the price earned by our sins, and even to pay that price at our own hands and through our own sins. By His accepting the punishment of our sins, it is our sins that add to that punishment, and our repentance unto life that prove so great a sacrifice on His part to be worth it. It is only on account of that extraordinary offer that the frightful punishment due all of us for our sins will not have to be paid by us ourselves, for who could endure it (but one who has not sinned), since sin is truly a great horror and evil in the sight of God, deserving of utter damnation.
Next to such sacrifice on His part, any sacrifices we can make have virtually no showing on the scales of eternal Judgment. But that does not excuse us from such duties. How can we truly imitate Christ unless we also imitate that love and sacrifice that also led to His death? Unless we also, in some way, ourselves share in that suffering? What can that suffering on His part mean to us, if we have known no suffering, especially of like kind as to His? Not only does He pick up His Cross and proceed to Calvary, we ourselves are directed to pick up our own crosses and carry them as well.
Life itself offers any number of crosses without any help from us. And of course, when we do wrong and are punished in this life for our wrongdoing, is that not merely what we have justly brought upon ourselves? The merit of accepting the punishment for our crimes can never surpass the merit of not having done the crimes in the first place. At most, perhaps, it might match it. Yet there is a role for voluntary offerings and sacrifices in our lives, not by having them justly imposed upon us for our crimes (for it is never good to commit crimes), but by doing as Jesus did, namely taking upon ourselves additional sufferings and burdens (but scaled to our finite selves) that justly are not ours, but in which we can share, in what small way it is, in the sufferings of Christ. And these offerings do bring benefits to others for whom we make them, and also even for ourselves in reducing our Purgatorial stay.
For I perceive that there are two purposes for Purgatory, one being the correction and perfection of the souls, and the other being retribution for the harm done by the souls. As none of us achieve perfection in this life as to our own inclinations and desires (let alone deeds), the correction and perfection aspect of Purgatory is ours alone, as we must come to terms with no outlet for even the slightest of our venial sins, our worldly desires, or usual earthly compensations. We must endure the permanent severance from all ties to such and even any wish for them. Until our souls be reshaped to no longer miss such things, this aspect of Purgatory is always and necessarily ours to endure, and can only be reduced by our own preparation (with God's help, as always) in this life to detach ourselves from such things and desires. But the retributive aspect of Purgatory (which is generally far larger) is something in which we can help each other, and in which the living can assist those in Purgatory. But let's look more at this retributive aspect.
It is plainly not fair, in all justice, that someone who has done a lot of harm and evil, but who then repents and gets saved by the end of their life, should equally go straight into the joys of Heaven as would someone who has done little to no harm and who also gets saved by the end of their life. There would be no justice with God if something was not possible to balance the scales in such cases. Thus enters the role of Purgatory. True, the one who worked much evil has repented, and must ultimately be as saved as another who worked little to no evil, but first that one passes through much in the way of Purgatory, which the latter is not obliged to endure. Can one not see the justice of that?
In our sympathetic echo of Christ's sufferings, there are a number of ways that we are able to share in them, for our own sobriety and edification and penance, which can be also on behalf of the souls in Purgatory, which then brings their gratitude and prayers. For this category of Penance, there are:
1) Prayer - by which here is meant not all the variety and manner of heartfelt prayers by which we request things of God or simply fellowship with God, but rather prayers offered specifically in penance, for example the prayers prescribed in the confessional as the assigned "penance" by the priest as being concomitant to absolution. Jesus Christ, as we should recall, prayed many times, even repeating Himself in His prayers (e. g. St. Matthew 26:44).
2) Fasting - by which one deprives oneself of something lawful (customarily food, but it can be other compensations of life) for a time, even as Jesus Christ deprived Himself of the glory of heaven, taking on the form of a mere man.
3) Mortification - by which one accepts or even imposes some element of physical suffering on themselves, even as Christ consented to be born in a cold and drafty stable, go through life without even a place to rest his head as foxes have dens and birds have nests (St. Matthew 8:20), and die upon a Cross after being flogged and mocked and tortured in any number of ways.
4) Sacrifice - by which one surrenders ownership of something that otherwise is rightfully theirs, as the ancient Jews would sacrifice the finest sheep from their flock, giving it to God, neither to be consumed by themselves, their families, their friends, or their customers, but by God alone. This also echoes the sacrifice of the Father in giving away His own Finest to die on the Cross.
5) Alms - by which one donates of one's own means what is needed for the poor, not only as a benefit to the poor, but also as a means of advancing one's own soul in living beneath their lawful means, as God gives to us all things, at cost to Himself, as part of His loving Divine Nature.
6) Bearing Wrongs Patiently - by which one accepts to be falsely accused and even condemned for things they did not do, as was done by Jesus Christ Himself when He accepted to suffer on the Cross as though He were some monstrous sinner and blasphemer and so forth, though He never sinned and never blasphemed nor ever gave any valid reason to be punished.
7) Resignation - by which one gracefully accepts the evident will of God without complaint or any wish that things should even be different than what God has established in His providence.
All of these penitential acts exist for the express purpose of edification of the soul which practices them. Again, all of these things could be seen as "works," obviously not in the sense of "accomplishing" anything in the conventional sense of the word (other than the alms received by the poor), but more akin to the "work" one must do in school, again, not to "accomplish" anything per se, but to learn and be educated (and hopefully edified) by the experience, and also to make reparation for wrongs committed, even as a schoolchild might be assigned additional schoolwork as a "punishment" for something.
Category 7: Posture in Worship
Yet another thing we as Catholics do is show our devotion and respect and adoration of God in our physical actions, such as:
1) Kneeling literally on our knees, such that it is normal for Catholic churches to be fitted with kneelers upon which the congregation kneels during much of the Mass and other liturgical actions such as Rosaries, Benedictions, and Litanies.
2) Bowing on some other occasions, again as a sign of respect, which would also include such things as kissing the Bishop's ring.
3) Hands clasped in prayer and closed eyes and bowed head when praying.
4) Liturgical vestments and religious garb worn for liturgical purposes, and also as a sign of priestly office or religious order affiliation, extending to more minor things as may be worn by the laity, such as crucifixes, scapulars, and various Saint's medals and pins, or even just a simple Cross
5) Genuflection before entering pews, or while entering a church, or before the exposed Blessed Sacrament, or (using the other knee) upon meeting a significant prelate of the Church, again shows respect and (when not using the other knee) adoration.
6) Sign of the Cross which we make upon any of numerous occasions, such as while saying Grace at mealtime, or passing a cemetery, or nervously about to enter into a scary or challenging endeavor, again signals to all our affiliation with the Crucified One and our own readiness to die on such a Cross ourselves rather than surrender our Faith.
7) Sacramentals such as holy water and blessed objects and holy cards, artwork, and statuary, by which again we bless ourselves and ever keep the saintly ideals before our eyes as much as possible.
There is no doubt that such actions as these make a person come across as very pious. This is so much so strangely that many associate these small but patently visible displays of piety with hypocrisy rather than with real devotion. Certainly, these are the easiest parts of the Christian life for a faker to simulate, but we must remember that the presence of a counterfeit would be nonsense unless the genuine article also existed. By such pious little actions, we identify ourselves to be the sheep of God's pasture. Of course, wolves will sometimes also put on such actions as part of wearing sheep's clothing, but bear in mind that it does not make any sense that sheep would ever wear wolves clothing.
Another aspect of these pious little actions is that they each in their own way make more real to the person what is believed. While theoretically, a person could pray in any posture imaginable, but nevertheless there is something about assuming the position that far more strongly sets the mood and sets up a truly prayerful state of mind. All of these things instill Faith in those who practice them regularly, whether people can see them or not. For there are those who do these things only before people, for show. And there are those who do these things only when no one can see them, lest they be thought pretentious, though perhaps with also something of the hiding of one's light under the bushel basket in that as well.
Faith and Works, Summing Up:
One has to be able to see from all of the above that "good works" are not some way that we climb a ladder to Heaven under our own power, and more importantly that many of the things that might be listed as "good works" are technically not "works" at all since what they accomplish is purely spiritual in terms of the growth and edification of the one practicing them.
But on the other hand, growth and edification is what it all is really all about, since without it we cannot be fit for Heaven, and it would be a truly great mistake for God to bring to Heaven someone who is still a slave to sin, and with much that they owe towards those they have wronged, and towards those who have given freely to them.
Is it really that hard for Protestants to be able to understand and see the value of? Do they not themselves often teach that one may pass from death to life with nothing more than a simple prayer (the "sinner's prayer" as often referred to by them) for salvation? One might as well call that prayer a "good work," for it is something the individual soul chooses to do, and does, not merely has happen to them passively. How can that be any different from receiving the Sacraments, except that the Sacraments are far more real and substantial in power and effect upon the soul?
And this greater power and effect is not merely about being "ever so much more so" but qualitatively something more. For many, the Gospel is like being told that you have just inherited a million dollars from some rich uncle. So then they begin spending money on whatever. But there is a problem. Just because the inheritance exists and they are legally entitled to it is not quite enough. Their bank account is quickly overdrawn and their checks begin to bounce and their credit rating goes into the toilet. What went wrong? The bare fact of this inheritance money being for them is not quite enough. They must also meet with the executer of the uncle's will and allow that executer to cut them a check for their inheritance which they in turn must then deposit into their bank account. Only then can they actually start spending the money.
Or again, the guy says that he loves the girl and promises to be with her always, but from her perspective there still seems to be some lack of the necessary commitment. Though they plainly love each other very much, it is just not enough. What else is needed? They need to get married, a wedding, the "I do's," the paperwork, and so forth. Only that truly makes it official. Only that makes it real.
That is where the Sacraments come in. The Christian equivalent to getting and depositing the check from the executer, and to getting married in a wedding, is the Sacrament of Baptism. And for the other further spiritual needs of a person, that is where the later Sacraments all come into play. The Protestant would substitute the "sinner's prayer" for water Baptism, leaving Baptism itself with no clear role in the salvific life of the Christian, and based on what? Nobody in the Bible is ever seen praying the "sinner's prayer," let alone that being enough to save anyone, but many in the Bible reportedly get baptized and are thereby joined to the Church, and to Christ.
And the other works? Do not even the Protestants speak of Discipleship? Too many of us (as I saw back in my own Protestant days) heard Testimonies that consisted of one's dreary selfish life, climaxing and concluding with their decision for Christ, and then that was it, as if the mere arrival at such a point as making such a vital choice was the whole of what Christianity was about. I remember one Protestant explaining it to me thus: "After you die, then your life is reviewed, and if at any point you accepted Jesus Christ to be your Savior, then you are saved, and if no such event is found, then you are lost." If nothing else, I have got to give him credit for the directness of his expression. But obviously, I would hope and assume that even most Protestants know that such a choice is not meant to be the end of one's Testimony, but the beginning.
Such a choice, meritorious as it is, is only a first step, and so important IS that first step that all others must come after it or not at all. But that one step is not enough. It is meant to be the beginning of many steps, a journey to God, in which our Testimony must over time become one of learning and growing in God, of having God do much for us and in us and with us, in blessing others and preparing ourselves to be fit for Heaven, with His Divine assistance and guidance, of course. True, God can be merciful in cases where one's life is cut off immediately after the most brief and interior choice for Him, or at any point along that journey, but the existence of such a mercy does not excuse one from continuing on that journey as far as God and Providence permits.
"Good works" is really about living our Faith. Of what value is our Faith if it is not lived to whatever extent and duration God permits us to continue alive in it? That living our Faith also brings benefits in this life is, next to what it means in the eternal presence of our Maker, practically an afterthought, yet of more benefit to the rest of our lives than anything else can ever be, by far. And with such a walking with God, such discipleship, such growth in sanctity and edification, comes also the consolations of religion, the assurance that God really will save us providing only we let Him do so.
R. M. Garrigou-Lagrange, in his book Life Everlasting, in speaking of the number of the elect, enumerated eight signs that a person really is on the way to Heaven, walking in all that God has intended for them and fulfilling their purpose for which God created them uniquely as themselves:
1) A good life - one filled with virtuous living, free from sins
2) The testimony of a good conscience - with no need of guilt as one lives innocently
3) Patience in adversities for love of God - by which the consolations of God truly outweigh the tribulations of this earthly existence
4) Relish for the light and Word of God - by which we actually enjoy learning of God, "I rejoiced when they said, 'Let us go up to the Temple of God.'"
5) Mercy toward those who suffer - for we too have known suffering, both voluntary and imposed from without, in imitation of our Divine Master
6) Love of enemies - by which we desire their edification and their redemption, that they too may be saved and cease to be our enemies
7) Humility - by which we are content with the lot God has given us in life, accepting all duties high and low with equal equanimity.
8) Special Devotion to the Blessed Virgin - by which we cement ourselves to the family of our Lord, the Church, which today lives on as Catholic Tradition.