A man had four friends whom he loved with varying degrees of intensity. His first love was nearly always on his mind and he served him with unwavering dedication. The second earned a different kind of love and elicited in him a strong sense of gratitude. Next came a weaker love because this third friend did not always reciprocate our protagonist’s affection. Finally, the least vigorous of his loves was directed to a friend who was more of a liability than an asset, one who gained more than he gave, received more than he returned.
The day came when this man was called before the throne of the king to answer a complaint. He called upon his first friend to serve as an advocate, but this friend was nowhere to be found. The second explained why he was unable to help him since he was bound by other duties. The third was willing to accompany him to the palace gates, but not any further. The man was about to surrender to despair when he asked his fourth friend. To his surprise, the least of his loves not only served as his advocate but gained his acquittal.
The first love was money, and being a mere phantasm, was completely unable to offer any assistance. The second was pleasure, which, being self-seeking, lacked any element of altruism. The third were his relatives, who were willing to accompany him to the grave site, but could go no further. The least of his loves, his good works, proved most advantageous; they won him his eternal reward. They were the absolute confirmation that it is more blessed to give than to receive.
The man who is the center of our fable could have been more attentive to his good works. Nonetheless, his charity was noticed and worked toward his salvation. As Saint Ignatius of Antioch once wrote in a letter to Saint Polycarp, “Let your works be deposits, so that you may receive the sum that is due you.”
The Catholic poet Richard Crashaw echoed these sentiments centuries later when, in his “Hymn to St. Teresa,” he stated, “All thy works which went before / And waited for thee at the door, / Shall own thee there.”
Jeremy Taylor, frequently cited as one of the greatest prose writers of the English language, could have had our friend in mind when he stated the following: “Some friendships are made by nature, some by contract, some by interest and some by souls.” We contract for money and are interested in pleasure. But these, of course, are fickle friends and do not serve us in the end. The kindred souls with whom we are bound in friendship can do only so much for us. They cannot merit for us the rewards of the kingdom. Only I, with the grace of God, can merit salvation; and I must achieve that on my own. When we are true to our nature, we are true to that spring of generosity that lies deep within ourselves. Then, we perform the good works that please God and ensure our eternal friendship with him.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau thought he could barge his way into heaven on the merits of his Confessions. On the first page of that book, he wrote, “Let the trumpet of the last judgment sound when it will, I shall come to appear before the sovereign judge with this book in my hand.” The difference between a good work and good works is all the difference there is in the moral universe. Good works are expressions of charity; a good book is the product of a clever mind. Rousseau thought he could enter paradise on his own terms. But God commands us to love, and our good works are the testimony of that love. Heaven is a place where Love welcomes love. Good works are truly man’s best friend.
Dr. Donald DeMarco is a Senior Fellow of Human Life International. He is professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo, Ontario, an adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College in Cromwell and a regular columnist for St. Austin Review. His latest works, How to Remain Sane in a World That is Going Mad; Poetry that Enters the Mind and Warms the Heart; and How to Flourish in a Fallen World are available through Amazon.com.