Monday of the First Week of Lent
One of the more contentious debates which occurred in the 16th and 17th centuries concerned the role good works played in moving a person towards eternal life with God. Our reading this morning, the famous passage from Matthew, chapter 25 commonly referend to as the separation of the sheep and the goats or who gets to heaven or who doesn’t, was frequently used by Catholic reformers as a biblical passage which demonstrated the importance of good works. Good as good works were, this importance sometimes clouded a fundamental teaching of the Church. This teaching was repeated at the Council of Trent with its emphasis that the source of our salvation is not works, our salvation has its only source in the redemptive work of Christ.
If anyone says that man can be justified before God by his own works, whether done by his natural powers or through the teaching of the law, without divine grace through Jesus Christ let him be anathema (kicked out)
Council of Trent, Session 6 Canon 1
The Catholic Church never taught that we are saved by our own effort. That was the heresy of Pelagianism and was dealt with accordingly. The Catholic Church teaches that good works are the necessary response to God’s action in our life, an invitation to an event that we did not cause but one to which we are freely invited to participate and that participation entails certain requirements. Jesus identified the fundamental requirements of this relationship when he summarized all the commandments of the Law: Love God who created you and desires that you be with that same loving God second by second, love your neighbor as yourself.