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September 1988

What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? (James 2:14)

One of the most dangerous spiritual illnesses is inconsistency, which causes a split between faith and concrete commitment, which completely paralyses and empties the Christian life.

This is the danger St James wants to warn us about as he writes to the Christian communities scattered about the world.

He is talking about those who had a very high regard for their profession of faith, and rightly so, but who then were unable or unwilling to follow the consequences which faith brings into everyday life. This accounts for the difficulties and abuses which were found in the communities he addresses, particularly in the field of solidarity and love of one's neighbour. These difficulties were incompatible with the calling of a Christian.

What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works?

By works St James means behaviour in conformity with the teaching of Jesus He means the words of Jesus put into practice, lived out in daily life and not just adhered to with the mind in a sterile fashion. From the context it is clear that he is talking about the works of Christian charity, beginning with those that are most urgent, the corporal works of mercy in which our judgement is decided: "I was hungry and you fed me... naked and you clothed me." (Mt 25:35)

What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works?

If faith is not translated into concrete works, St James tells us, it will have been of no use. Merely hearing the message of Jesus is of no use. A faith which fails to transform our behaviour and does not show the fruitfulness of the gospel message is unworthy of being called faith, it is pure illusion.

Faith is a light which because of its nature cannot remain unfruitful and inactive. Jesus is inexorably logical about this. If we do not incarnate the light we have received the light will go out within us and will be taken from us.

What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works?

How should we put this word into practice? We must take Jesus' words seriously. Indifference and half measures should never overcome us.

We need to seek out the most secret corners of our conscience where our laziness and selfishness hide and try to defend themselves and justify themselves.

One day we will be judged not so much on our understanding of the Gospel as on the way in which we have borne fruit through living it.

So let's prepare for this judgement carefully with perseverance. The teaching of Jesus is summed up in love for our neighbour. So, let's keep this love alive in us above all.

Chiara Lubich


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