Last month I wrote about a study conducted in Europe – Social Participation and Depression in Old Age, by the London School of Economics and Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands. Their conclusions was that individuals age 50 or over who participated in church, which seemed to mean simply attending, were significantly less likely to be depressed than other active seniors. Note there was a separate category for volunteering and charity work.
As I thought more about that study, I found it interesting that attendance at church was more beneficial than volunteering/charity work. Now for a lot of us, church means volunteering and charity work. This is particularly the case for deacons – our ministry is to call attention to those in need and then work through the church to do something about it. Just as Christ came to serve, we are all called to serve each other. As I write this, Pope Francis is calling for ending tax-exempt status for Churches that don’t help the needy. So there is a long tradition that the mission of the church is to help the poor.
Throughout the church’s history, there has also been the issue of how we are saved, works verses faith. This is a hangover from Jewish tradition where some saw their works as evidence of their faith and justification (Lk 18:11 – The Pharisee and the tax collector). In St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, we hear: “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works…” (3:38) and similarly in Galatians 2:16. In the letters of James, there is a discussion of Faith and Works (James 2:14-17), ending “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.” I don’t think James was in disagreement with Paul, rather, pointing out if we really have faith, then we will act like it in our lives and our works are a result of that faith, not a means to our salvation. I think most of us know in our heart of hearts, that it is faith and God’s grace that saves us. But I’m also guessing somewhere in the back of our minds is the idea that there might be a bit of quid pro quo, or at least some nod towards building up a few credits in the plus column for when we meet St. Peter at the Pearly Gates.
I take away from the study, that while our charity work is great, simply attending church on a regular basis will do much more for us mentally, building up our faith in this life time, and by building our faith, oh so much more in the next. Attending church, sharing in the prayers and fellowship will do much for our wellbeing, as we increase in faith.
But guess what, like James I’m going to continue to remind you that you demonstrate your faith through how you live your lives – do you live out your baptismal vows to seek and serve Christ in others?
Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.