This last weekend some friends helped Nick and me move from one 3rd floor apartment to another. These kind souls did so in Houston, so it was 90 degrees and 80% humidity. (Truly they’re saints) By the end of it all, they were so sweaty that they looked like they had just jumped in a pool. We all felt so disgusting!
As gross as sweating is, it is an amazing process of a healthy working body. When you have a healthy body that is well-hydrated and your body heats up, the body wants to get back to homeostasis. So as it gets warmer, the body sends signals to receptors in the hypothalamus part of the brain. This then sends a reaction out to our over 2 million eccrine glands telling them to release some of our water so that we might be able to cool down.
The body needs water for a number of other functions like keeping tissues moist, cushioning joints, and flushing out waste, but it automatically gives up some of this necessary water to keep the whole at a regular temperature. This is a natural reaction that just happens. It is not a conscious decision that we make. We don’t feel our skin starting to get hot and consciously say
“Hey Brain! It would be really great if you could send some water to the outside of my skin, thanks. READY, GO!”
But, in order for this natural process to work, there has to be enough water in the body. The body has to already be healthy. When we are dehydrated, our body doesn’t sweat. It is not a natural reaction because the brain pathways decide on their own to keep that water for other things.
One of the most controversial topics between the Catholic Church and other Christian denominations is the misconstrued ideas of needing “faith alone” or “faith AND works” in order to be saved. Oftentimes this teaching is misinterpreted and people believe that Catholics think that you need to tally up enough good deeds in order to earn your place in heaven, but that is not the teaching at all.
At the time of the Protestant Reformation, the leaders of the Catholic Church came together to discuss some things at the Council of Trent. At this council they put forth the Decree of Justification (DJ) which presented the Catholic teaching on this particular subject. This term “justification” is often used in Church doctrine, but rarely used in common speak, so the terminology can be tricky. To clarify, Protestants often refer to justification as the one-time event when you turned to God and were declared righteous by God. Catholics, on the other hand, acknowledge this first event, but also say that when united with Christ through faith that you will continue to grow in grace throughout your life and refer to this entire process as justification.
The Council of Trent defined justification as “not only a remission of sins but also the sanctification and renewal of the inner man” (DJ 7).
The Catholic idea of justification is that through this faith, we will grow more closely with the love of Christ, and this will naturally lead us to a life of outward love of others. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI put it beautifully when he said, “Luther’s phrase ‘faith alone’ is true, if it is not opposed to faith in charity, in love. Faith is looking at Christ, entrusting oneself to Christ, being united to Christ, conformed to Christ, to his life. And the form, the life of Christ, is love; hence to believe is to conform to Christ and to enter into his love. So it is that in the Letter to the Galatians in which he primarily developed his teaching on justification St. Paul speaks of faith that works through love” (General Audience, Nov. 19, 2008).
In this way, I relate all of this back to sweat. When the body is healthy and fully united to the idea of the good of the whole, it gives up this water without even thinking about it. It sacrifices water that could be used for organs or joints in order to keep the whole body cool and healthy. So too, do those who have a healthy faith life, who are fully united to Christ’s love, just automatically give of themselves in love for the entire body of Christ. It is not a conscious decision; it is simply a natural reaction due to the undying love inside their heart.
These loving actions that Christians perform are not earning us any closer to heaven as if we simply need to check enough boxes, but the closer we grow to Christ, the more loving actions will naturally come from us. So too, if we perform more loving actions, the closer we will continue to grow to Christ. This never-ending cycle of grace is a beautiful product of growing in our faith, becoming healthier in it.
Often times we fail in assessing our own health. Many times growing up I would be playing in a softball tournament during the middle of summer and think I was plenty hydrated, but I wouldn’t be sweating. I was definitely dehydrated. So too we often think that our faith life is doing well, but if love does not automatically flow from us, we must draw closer to the life-giving water of Jesus Christ. It is only then that our soul may become healthy, when the love of Christ is a natural reaction to the world not being in homeostasis. How can you grow closer to Christ this week? How can you show greater love to others?
To read more about this complicated teaching from the Council of Trent and other Church fathers, this article has some really great information and discussion: https://www.catholic.com/magazine/print-edition/faith-and-works-0