There is a lot of talk about how religion is not a true way to encounter God but rather a detriment to following him. A false impression, which is poplar in this time, is that religion is useless since it cannot save us, that only faith can save us. This is built on the mistaken assumption that anyone should believe that the role of religion is to save us in the first place. Another mistake is to believe that faith alone saves as this appears nowhere in Scripture aside for in the statement that “faith alone does not save.” – James 2:24
One can say “I have faith” great, even the demons believe! In fact the devils may have more faith than we do because they know it’s all real. What constitutes religion is not only saying you believe in God, but also showing it through devotions and acts of prayer. Our main way of prayer always has been the Mass and it’s not just a series of empty gestures. If anyone says it is so then ask why do people send flowers to someone they love, or write songs or take them out on picnic. Why have a wedding with all the decor and beauty? Because the depth of love is shown in gesture. Love demands action. It demands expression.
Faith was when the apostles saw the empty tomb and believed Our Lord had risen, religion was when they spread the word throughout every nation. Faith is in confessing Christ as Lord, religion is obeying the commands he gave us because of that confession. Faith is the root of the tree without which it cannot grow, religion is the flower which turns into fruit. And beware that every tree that bears not fruit will be cut down. This is why the Apostle James writes: “ But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” – James 1:23. Such is the complement that religion gives faith. They go together and can never be exclusive.
I also would like to point out that religion is manifest in the love we give to our neighbor, in addition to the love we give to God. If a person keeps faith to themselves, there is a risk for self-assurance, an “us and them” attitude that characterizes the pharisee. By being the outward display of faith, religion obliges us to carry Christ out into the world. This is what James means when he says “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27
Therefore religion has always been part of Scripture faith. It has always been the “works” that goes along with faith. Neither by themselves save you as faith without works is dead and works without faith is empty humanism.
Our salvation comes from grace alone, not merely faith and not merely religion. Faith and religion are the twin-marks of God’s people, being put towards the use of building up the Kingdom of God. They are as the wings of a bird, giving it direction while grace is the wind which uplifts it. Wings alone do not make for flight. The lift and drag of the winds cause flight. Yet the bird needs its wings in order to mount the winds. In the same way, we need both faith and religion so that we not only reach awareness of God’s free gift of grace but also accept this gift.