Faith, Without Works, Is Dead

Homily at St Dyfrig’s for the 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B

Today’s sermon was a prelude to the lay appeal for financial and personal support for the local branch of the SVP September is SVP Awareness Month.

Two friends – let’s call them Faith and Charity, though those were not their names – fell into conversation one day. Both acknowledged that they had not led perfect lives, though neither of them were criminals or bad people.

Faith said to Charity: “On the high mountain there is a monastery, where for one month each year the Abbot pronounces a pardon of all sins. We should climb the mountain, receive the Abbot’s blessing, and renew our relationship with God.”

Charity agreed to travel with Faith on this journey, and so they began to climb the mountain. As they reached higher levels, the weather became colder and colder, until their fingers were numb and their teeth were chattering.

At length, they came to a place where a human body lay on the path, stiff and unmoving, but with a flicker of life still in his eyes.

Charity said: “We must take this stranger with us to the monastery.”

But Faith replied: “This pilgrim is as good as dead already. If we attempt to carry him, he will slow us down and none of us will reach the monastery alive. The month of pardon will end soon, and if we do not reach the monastery in time, the Abbot will go into his hermitage for the winter retreat: we will not receive our pardon.”

With that, Faith hurried on up the mountain path, confident of arriving and receiving the promised blessing. But Charity took pity on the dying man and lifted him on to her back. Wrapping his legs around her shoulders, binding him tight with cords, she slowly continued her burdened journey up the mountain path.

As Charity climbed higher, the air grew more and more bitter, and she lost feeling in all her extremities. Yet the heart of the burden on her back still beat, and a wonderful thing began to happen: as the heat of Charity’s body warmed his, his breathing became stronger and stronger, his body heat warmer, until each kept the other from perishing in the cold.

At length, they came across a figure, stiff and frozen at the side of the path. Faith, without the heat of a burden to protect her, had perished in the cold. Charity examined her, but there was no hope to be had, and Charity climbed sadly on.

Only an hour later, Charity and her patient arrived at the mountaintop monastery, as the final service of pardon for the year was about to end. The monks tended to the rescued man, and Charity was taken to the Abbot to receive the very last pardon of the season.

As was customary, after pronouncing the pardon, the Abbot spoke a word of wisdom to the pilgrim. This is what he said.

“Charity, when you return home your life will pass through different seasons. There will be occasions when you have little time to do good works. Your priority will be to help those whose work and family life lies alongside yours. At those times you must ‘help as you go’, as you did for the man you rescued. But there will also be seasons in your life when you have more liberty, and those times you must ‘go and help’, seeking out those in need to offer them the love of Christ, for this is what He has commanded us to do.”

“Because of your good work, you were able to arrive here safely at the place of pardon. As you return to daily life, you will pass the body of your friend at the side of the mountain path. Let that image remain with you always – for it will remind you powerfully that Faith, without good works, is dead indeed.”

Adapted from a story by William Rix in Complete Quotes and Anecdotes (ed. Tony Castle), p. 145.