Why must we do good works?
In the Old Testament, God is greatly pleased by those who care for orphans and widows. God is close to those who suffer and he expects his people to speak words of consolation and be his embrace to care for the suffering. In the New Testament, Jesus embodies this care. He heals the sick, gives sight to the blind, consoles the downtrodden, teaches people the good news of who they are and what they are worth to God, and calls everyone into a new life. Jesus, the perfect King, tells us that he did not come to be served, but to serve. At the Last Supper, he models this service to the Apostles by washing their feet, saying this is something that is necessary for his followers to do - a function of the Church he is giving them to lead.
Since that moment 2,000 years ago, the Church has both instituted and expanded key institutions working at the service of the public good - in medicine, education, law and more. The modern hospital system can trace its roots to the Catholic Church and the work of religious orders in healing and providing care. Universities first sprang out of monastic enclaves that preserved culture through the middle ages. Primary and secondary schools began in poor communities where the Church provided free education. Even the very legal foundations of democratic systems and processes came from the law of the Church. Things such as a corporation with its own rights or the concept of fiduciary responsibility came directly from the Catholic understanding of law. Each of these groundbreaking developments came about as the Church sought to improve and serve the public good.
It is expected as a necessary part of the Christian life that faithful Catholics continue this service in their work and in their volunteer ministries that God’s will might be done “on earth as it is in Heaven.”
Are works necessary for salvation?
A one-sided debate continues to rage around what is largely a misunderstanding in Christianity - the importance of faith and works in one's salvation. Protestants claim that faith in Jesus Christ alone is sufficient for one to be saved and further claim that Catholics believe that faith in Jesus and good works are both required for salvation.
The good news is that this debate is largely a waste of time. Protestants and Catholics both believe faith in Jesus Christ alone is sufficient to secure salvation. That said, Catholics believe that faith in Jesus orients a soul toward good works - that is to say that a fruit of authentic faith is the works of a person in service of others. While those works without faith can’t earn salvation, they are a helpful sign of the life of grace present in the soul of the person and a necessary part of the Christian life.
Faith requires grace and work
While faith is rational and the ultimate end of an inquisitive mind properly ordered to correspond to truth, not everyone arrives at faith immediately or through reason alone. Many seekers of truth have blind spots that prevent them from finding the gift of faith. This could be due to their family upbringing, a misunderstanding they have with God or the Church, a hardened heart rooted in pain, blindness caused by sin, or countless other reasons. What is important is that Catholics understand that each of us have roadblocks or walls that must be surmounted on our journeys into the fullness of truth and each of us will need assistance to overcome them.
God chooses to provide us this assistance directly through grace as a gift and through the people of his Church. As such we must recognize that faith is a gift from God - a grace given that helps us see things as they actually are. It is given to His Church, flowing through the work of the faithful in prayer, sacrifice and friendship to illuminate the blindspots of others and help them on their journeys. In fact, the ultimate purpose of the Church is to help heal others that they might become disciples and live in the light of faith. While these works aren’t necessary for our individual salvation, they are a necessary work of the Body of Christ that helps bring Him to others to receive the gift of faith.
Where can I find volunteer and service opportunities?
If you are looking to help build the kingdom of God in service, start by checking with your parish and seeing if there are opportunities to serve and assist your parish community. Many parishes also have service opportunities into the larger community, helping with clothing, food or toy drives, homeless ministry, hospital ministries and so many others. Lastly, many great organizations in the Catholic Church organize groups to do good works in the communities where they exist. Use our search feature to find a parish or groups where you can put your talents and heart at the service of God in service to your fellow man.