Ephesians 2:10
For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus…
I think this small phrase is seriously overlooked. I believe it is actually a core to understanding who we are in Christ. Of course, it has to be read in conjunction with the verses just above it that we heard today. But this simple little phrase speaks volumes about who we are in the eyes of God and who we are supposed to be while we are here on this earth.
The two verses just before this that we read are: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast.” And then immediately St. Paul says: “for we are his handiwork…”
I think this is pointing to the transformation that happens through Baptism. The Catholic Church holds that we are completely a new creation because we have been baptized. I am going to use a fancy word here. There is an ontological change that happens in baptism, and confirmation, and ordination. The fancy word means that we are not the same after as before.
It is a total gift of God! We cannot claim any credit for it. And anything we do that is worthy of God’s notice in our lives is done because of the grace that springs out of baptism and confirmation and – in the case of a bishop, priest, or deacon – ordination.
Just as our birth in the natural life was a creation, so this new life of faith is a re-creation given to us as freely as the natural life that we have now was given to us through our parents by God.
It is this grace that we have received as a gift from God that marks us as his children. This is not something we boast in. This is part of the free gift of God! The opening part of the reading from Ephesians today reminds us that God is rich in mercy and this is revealed in his love for us.
This is the transformation that must occur for us to grow in holiness. It has already been given to us in baptism. But is it growing? This is where it comes down to the question of “works.” This is also a point of contention with people that do not understand how we are given the gift of faith.
This confusion, I have to say, began with Martin Luther and the Protestant revolution. The confusion happens because the idea of being saved through faith – I am sorry to say – has been distorted by Christians who have abandoned or have never been part of the Catholic Church.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith…” It is the grace of God that saves us, not faith. Faith plays an important part in it, but faith is also a gift from God that transforms us. It is totally the work of God because he chooses, by the grace of the sacraments, to make us his children. So, we have no reason to boast about any of the things that we have done or our ancestry, like the Jews who were the first chosen people of God.
But now we come to the last line of the reading from today. We have been “created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them.” These are not the same things, the same works, that are mentioned just above my primary verse for today. The works that St. Paul was rejecting are the works of the Old Testament, of the law, that the Jews lived by.
Instead, the good works that God has prepared for us are the spiritual and corporal works of mercy that we are called to do to share the life of God with others.
Finally, let me remind you of something I have said over the past few years. I think that our homes in heaven will be made up of the bricks of our good works, the mortar of our virtues, and the wood of the cross.
This is why it is so important for us to do these good works that God has prepared in advance. He has set them up for us to do! And we need to ask ourselves: how hard are we looking in our lives for the times and places and things that God wants us to do for the sake of others and for the sake of the Kingdom?
Two verses after our reading today St. Paul says, “now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have become near by the blood of Christ.” What have we come near? We have come near to the throne of grace. We have come near to the God who is rich in mercy. We have come near to the font of good works that are in the grace of God. And this font cannot be exhausted.
There is another phrase I like that is not in the Scriptures. A sorrow shared is halved; a joy shared is doubled. When we work with the graces of God, we are able to share in both the joys and sorrows of others and help lead them into the grace of God that will make them, also, children of God by adoption – coheirs with us in Christ.
I think this is the point that St. Paul is trying to get across to the Ephesians. It is not that we are required to do the works of the Old Testament laws. But as God’s sons and daughters, princes and princesses of the Kingdom, we receive the grace and the joy of doing these good works for the sake of others and for the sake of the Kingdom.
If any non-Catholic tries to tell you that the church’s teaching about salvation is tied up with us doing works, trust that they are wrong. If you feel comfortable, TELL them they are wrong. And then explain to them that it is not a matter of “doing things” to assure our salvation. We have already been changed into the children of God, into royalty, by baptism and this gives us the grace to do the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. It gives us what we need to participate in the life of God who is “rich in mercy” and offers us a chance to live in his holiness by doing these works of mercy.
Finally, to remind you what these works of mercy are.
The corporal works of mercy are: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, visit the prisoners, bury the dead, and give alms to the poor.
The spiritual works of mercy are: counseling the doubtful, instructing the ignorant, admonishing the sinner, comforting the sorrowful, forgiving injuries, bearing wrongs patiently, and praying for the living and the dead.
And one other reminder of what I said earlier: I believe our homes in heaven will be made of the bricks of our good works, the mortar of our virtues, and the wood of the cross.
So, we pray.
Father, you are rich in mercy and have asked your children to share in your richness and your mercy by being your ambassadors to holiness in the world around us. Give us the strength we need today to be who you need us to be for the sake of your magnificence that we may give witness to your mercy and glory in everything we say and do that all Glory may be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.