Catholics, Protestants often say, believe in salvation by good works. This engenders the reply from thoughtful Catholics, no we don’t! You have to have grace. In fact, we even believe in justification by faith, just like you Lutherans do, as proven by the accord we signed with liberal Lutherans. Since there is now no real disagreement, there is no need for the Reformation divisions. You can come back to Rome and enjoy being under Pope Francis.
But Pope Francis keeps preaching that salvation is, in fact, by good works. He is reported to have said recently that it’s better to be an atheist than a bad Christian. Now this is not exactly what he said, according to ChurchPop; in context he was referring to Christians living a “double life” of sin and piety, which creates a “scandal” that makes outsiders think it would be better to be an atheist. But read his sermon yourself to get a sense of where he stands on the importance of good works for salvation. Note how he warns against “excessive confidence” in Christ’s forgiveness.
Earlier the Pope has said that on the last day the only issue will be “what we did.” Lots of Christians won’t make it. But atheists will, if they do good. Here is what the Pope said of atheists: “‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”
So those who do not believe but do good works will meet with the Christians who do good works in Heaven. While Christians who believe but are sinful will not.
The Vatican, in its job of covering for the Pope when he runs off the tracks, said that he was only speaking of God’s grace that is available to all, including atheists.
But, according to Rome, grace is necessary for a person to do good works. So if someone has good works, they reason, this is evidence that they have grace. An atheist who does good deeds must have God’s grace. This is how Catholics can be so open to other religions. A Muslim who does good works has God’s grace.
My questions for the Holy Father: How many good works must I do in order to be received in Heaven? What if I do some good works and some bad works? I know about the Catholic teaching that I must do penance for my misdeeds, but even after I have confessed and been absolved, I have to experience a temporal punishment in Purgatory. How many years must I be there before I have atoned sufficiently for my sins? And what if I am a sinner? Is there any hope for me?
If you’re a Christian who exploits people, leads a double life or manages a “dirty” business, perhaps it’s better not to call yourself a believer, Pope Francis suggested in a homily on Thursday in Rome.“So many Christians are like this, and these people scandalize others,” Francis said during morning Mass at Casa Santa Marta, according to Vatican Radio. “How many times have we heard — all of us, around the neighborhood and elsewhere — ‘But to be a Catholic like that, it’s better to be an atheist.’ It is that: scandal.”. . .While many of this Pope’s pronouncements are often assumed to be novel interpretations of Christian doctrines, Francis was also touching on an ancient debate: If you believe but don’t behave, can you get into heaven?No, the Pope suggested, in characteristically blunt language.He imagined a wealthy Christian knocking at the gates of heaven and saying, “Here I am, Lord! … I went to Church, I was close to you, I belong to this association, I did this… Don’t you remember all the offerings I made?”To which Jesus may reply, according to the Pope:“Yes, I remember. The offerings, I remember them: All dirty. All stolen from the poor. I don’t know you.’ That will be Jesus’ response to these scandalous people who live a double life.”Thursday’s sermon is far from the first time Francis has targeted Christian hypocrites. In a sermon last February, the outspoken Pope called out the “fakeness” of Christians who talk piously, but do little to help others.“To be a Christian means to do: to do the will of God — and on the last day — because all of us we will have one — that day what shall the Lord ask us? Will He say: ‘What you have said about me?’ No. He shall ask us about the things we did.”It isn’t the first time the Pope has mentioned atheists, either. In 2013, he raised questions for saying that heaven is open, potentially, to all people.“The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone. “‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone!”Francis continued, “We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”The Vatican later issued a note clarifying that the Pope was simply saying that God’s grace is free to all, even atheists, and urging Christians and non-believers to work together.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7:21-23)
Aren’t the people being rejected here are the ones who did “many mighty works in your name”? And yet, Jesus and the miracle workers didn’t “know” each other. There was no relationship of faith.
In the Pope’s version, the damned one will say, “I was close to you.” But he lacked “mighty works.” The works that he did are “dirty,” so they were not good enough.
I know that a living faith results in good works, particularly the good works of love and service to our neighbors in our multiple vocations. And there is a judgment of those works. But it seems that the Pope is minimizing the source of those works, namely, the heart changed by faith.