Acts of Mercy: The Fruits of Salvation

Prayer is good when accompanied by fasting, almsgiving, and righteousness. A little with righteousness is better than much with wrongdoing. It is better to give alms than to treasure up gold. For almsgiving delivers from death, and it will purge away every sin. Those who perform deeds of charity and of righteousness will have fulness of life;

Tobit 12:7-8

Some information on the book of Tobit. The book is one of the Deutero-canonicals. These were books written during the Babylonian exile and were probably originally written in Greek. Protestant bibles do not include these deutero-canonicals because their Old Testament is based on books originally written in Hebrew. The Catholic Church recognizes these books, because the early Church used these books in their teachings and recognized these as equally inspired by the Spirit of God.

If you have not read the Book of Tobit, I recommend that you make it one of your readings this month. Aside from being a story of a man's persistence in doing right, it is also a love story and of course a story of God's faithfulness.

As Catholics, we are often taught that we have to do acts of mercy. This verse, specifically tells us that 'Prayer is good when accompanied by fasting, almsgiving, and righteousness.'

Sadly though, many Catholics think that acts of mercy are enough for salvation. But the passage clearly says that prayer should be accompanied by the acts of mercy. So, we do acts of mercy as a result of our prayer. And why do we pray? Because we love God. We go back to what Jesus said in the gospel, 'Unless your righteousness exceeds those of the Pharisees, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven'. The Pharisees at that time were perfect in every way. They did acts of mercy, they were obedient to the Law - as Paul said, 'In terms of the Law, I was blameless'

So why did Jesus say that they still are lacking something? They were too focused on obeying the Law that they forgot the reason for doing what was prescribed by the Law - to love God above all things and to love their neighbour as themselves.

Tobit was a man who, first of all, feared God. (Fear of the Lord is the result of our love for God). This fear of God moved him to do acts of mercy to his neighbours, such that he was not afraid of being caught burying the dead - even after the king threatened to kill him for doing this.

If our salvation is based on our doing acts of mercy, then it means that we do not need God. But our salvation is based on grace. It is God's grace that saves us and not our acts of mercy. Acts of mercy by itself cannot save us.

Before I realized this, I always thought that since I commit sins, I will do good works to make up for my sins. I treated this as an accounting matter where my sins were the 'expenses' and good deeds were 'income'. So hopefully, when I die, my balance sheet will show a profit - then I can go to heaven.

But this is not right. Our salvation is based on grace and if it is by grace, we cannot earn our salvation. BUT - as proof of our salvation, we have to bear fruit - and the fruits that we bear are the acts of mercy. We do not plant the seed of good works to bear the fruit of salvation. We plant the seed of salvation to bear the fruit of acts of mercy.

If we think that going to mass once a week and giving millions in donation to charity will earn us our salvation, we are wrong. True, "almsgiving delivers from death, and it will purge away every sin. Those who perform deeds of charity and of righteousness will have fulness of life;" but remember, these should be the fruits of our salvation - which is the result of our faith.

I think it was St. Teresa of Avila who said, "In the end, we will not be judged by how much we do, but by how much we love"

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