Is it faith or is it works? The question is really only important to us because we are locked into time. We live in a dimension where actions are sequential and thoughts can be separated out abstractly from actions.
In fact, the life of faith is just that: a life of faith. We don’t separate our faith in Jesus Christ from the works we do in his name. Good works cannot save us, but we can’t be saved without good works. The problem is that people observe that saints do good works, so they imagine that by doing good works they can become a saint.
Not quite. There is another factor involved. The saint does good works because the saint has become good. That is to say, the saint has been transformed by the power of God so they no longer want to be selfish and do bad things and they really honestly love to be self sacrificial, serve others and draw near to God. That is what gives them true delight and joy.
This is what it means, therefore, to ‘live by faith’. When we live by faith we live in total reliance on God. Our minds, our hearts and our wills are transformed supernaturally by the Holy Spirit so that we actually turn away in disgust from sin and we turn with joy to prayer, worship, service and self sacrifice. When we live by faith we live for God because we want to. St Benedict observes this in his rule. He says, after a lifetime of discipline, obedience and self denial, at last the monks begins to do all the things he once did out of duty and discipline because they now bring him joy.
So the life of faith is never a division between faith and works, but a total blend of faith and works. It is a life that is driven by one faith-filled action. It is life that is holistic and pure and simple. It is a life of dependence on God’s love as the organism is dependent on air.
The contradiction between faith and works simply does not exist–except in the aberration of fideism–that heresy which believes that no good works are necessary or possible and that other heresy of Pelagianism–which believes that through good works we can please God.
If anyone wants to understand this beautiful mystery one only has to read the lives of the saints. Pope Benedict has said, “The Scriptures can only be interpreted in the lives of the saints.” So it is with every Christian doctrine as well. Every mystery, every dogma, every moral teaching of the church, every Scripture, every writing of the theologians and fathers of the church can be understood by pondering the lives of the saints, for in the lives of the saints the grace of God and the glory of the Catholic faith are made enfleshed.
In the lives of the saints Christ again, in each unique way, is incarnated.