CS PHOTO BY JACLYN LIPPELMANN
 A young volunteer serves a meal to a guest during Catholic Charities’ Thanksgiving dinner in Washington in 2015.
CS PHOTO BY JACLYN LIPPELMANN A young volunteer serves a meal to a guest during Catholic Charities’ Thanksgiving dinner in Washington in 2015.

Five hundred years ago this past Tuesday, Martin Luther reportedly posted his 95 grievances against the Catholic Church on the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Germany. I am not a theologian, and there are many others better able to comment on the divisions that came about as a result, but I join in the sadness that our Christian journeys are sometimes separated, especially when we agree on so much. We still have much to learn from each other.

I do want to offer a personal perspective on one of the big differences back then and to some degree today as well, and that is the question of faith and works and God’s gift of salvation. The Catholic Church has never taught that we can simply work our way into heaven without faith. Rather, our works are how we live out our faith. They are the natural result of a faith that has truly taken effect within us, a faith that we practice, celebrate and live out in an active commitment to the Lord and our neighbor.

I think of Jesus’ words in the Gospel : “And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because he is a disciple—amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.”  (Matthew 10:42).

This is especially important to me because our whole mission at Catholic Charities is works of Christian love. In fact, because of our government contracts as well as the size of our agency, we do not actively proselytize and try to bring a conversion of faith. Our mission is to love our brothers and sisters in Christ by offering a hand up to those in need.

I often say to our staff and especially to new employees and volunteers that we are not trying to convert people to belief in Jesus by our words, but wouldn’t we be thrilled and honored if they came to know Jesus by our actions – the way we live and the love we show.

We serve any and all who come to us as best we can. I get asked sometimes if you need to be Catholic to receive help from Catholic Charities. The answer is no. Many of our employees and volunteers are not Catholic either. Cardinal James Hickey, our former archbishop here in Washington, was asked one time why we serve people who aren’t Catholic. His response was perfect. “We don’t do it because they’re Catholic.” he said. “We do it because we’re Catholic.” Our first question to anyone who comes to us is not “Are you Catholic?” but “How can we help?”

Our marching orders come right from the gospels. We are to feed the hungry (both physical and spiritual hunger), give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, take care of the sick and visit those in prison. We can broaden the reading of that and find opportunities to live that gospel message every day of our lives. If we do live out our faith this way, especially to those in need, we will hear Jesus say to us as he welcomes us to heaven, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (Matthew 25:34).

As a priest and especially as someone who works at Catholic Charities, I am blessed beyond measure to see the power of Christian love in action every day. I see it in those who serve, and I see it in the response of those being served. The wonder of our Lord is that he dwells in our hearts and the hearts of others, and we meet him each day in our faith, our prayers and in those we encounter.