The following is something I wrote in response to a question concerning the Catholic position on Faith, Works, and Justification. I found this picture on line, and find it to be pretty funny!
It depends on what we mean when we say “works.”
If “works” mean things done by the power of human beings without the power of God then Catholics absolutely do not believe that works can contribute to salvation.
On the other hand, if “works” mean things that human beings do by the power of God within them then Catholics absolutely believe that works like this can contribute to salvation.
In the Book of James the infallible Word of God makes it clear that salvation is not achieved by Faith alone:
“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead. Indeed someone might say, “You have faith and I have works.” Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works” (James 2:14-18).
“Do you want proof … that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by the works” (James 2:20-22).
The bottom line about what Catholics believe is that there is a mutual relationship between faith and works. Without works faith is dead and without faith works are meaningless and do not bring us any good.
Faith is given to us alongside hope and love and “the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13).
In human experience knowing God and having faith in him precedes and inspires acts of love, but acts of love represent the fulfillment of Faith, and of the Commandments. In other words, you have to have faith in God before you can love him, but Love is the fulfillment of our relationship with God.
He said to him,“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment (Matt 22:37-38).
When Paul says that we are not justified by works what he means is that we are not justified by works done without God’s power in us. He does not mean that salvation is caused by faith alone. This is the only way to interpret the Word of God in James and in Paul without saying that God contradicted himself.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).