5th Sunday of Easter
This Sunday, the second reading will be from 1 Jn 3:18-24. Start with verse 11, just to get a little more clarity on what John is talking about.
I hope you are one of those people who has been blessed with a conscience that lets it go the moment you leave the confessional.
This is admittedly rather uncommon in Catholic circles, so if you DO suffer with a conscience that just won’t let things go (like me), then this reading is in here for you.
My conscience is always trying to convince me that I must do something more to earn forgiveness, even after I’ve made restitution and reconciled with the one I’ve sinned against, and taken it to the confessional. This, of course, is nonsense - I know that I cannot earn God’s forgiveness.
And yet, my conscience keeps bothering me. I don’t feel certain of my forgiven condition or my salvation - sometimes, not all the time.
John reminds us that we know that we belong to Christ by whether we do our best to keep his commandments out of love for him, not by satisfying our hypersensitive consciences.
What we’re really saying when we doubt God’s word as to our forgiven condition is that we don’t trust him.
In our hearts, we are accusing him of misleading us. Suggesting that we might do everything he tells us, pray with all our hearts that we might love him more and better every day, and then when Judgment comes, get the rug pulled out from under us.
That's not the right way to love. Can you imagine doubting your husband like that based solely on a feeling? No strange anything - just a feeling. Would you really be loving him like you vowed to on your wedding day? Not really - not with the kind of trust you’d be putting in him. If we love God, we have confidence in his justice and his love for us. We worship a just God, not a capricious one.
We need to face facts - this business about getting the rug pulled out from under us… that’s just not how it’s going to happen. The Bible is pretty specific about that (Matthew 25:31-46).
John reminds us that keeping the commands of God and loving him and others in deed (rather than in word) is how we are to know that we are in Christ Jesus, not by satisfying our own consciences. God is greater than our consciences.
If we are choosing to follow the commandments, then we are choosing to love God. If we are choosing to love God, and therefore also choosing to live in accord with his commands, then doubt has no place in our hearts.
Love of God is the first and most important requirement, and love is a virtue. Virtues are like muscles. They become stronger with use. The more we choose to love God and our neighbor, the bigger and stronger our love muscles get, and the more we just love without thinking.
Have patience with me, a poor sinner who wants to keep your commandments, but keeps messing up. Forgive me for doubting in your word and your forgiveness. Forgive me for the times that I tried to earn that forgiveness.
Take away my doubts and replace them with confidence. Give me confidence in your redeeming sacrifice. Help me to let go of those sins that continue to haunt me, and give me the grace to leave those in the confessional when I leave.
(If you haven't caught what is going on with the Lectionary's second reading during this Easter season, we're doinga sequence of readings all the ay through John's first epistle. Not every scrap of the epistle, but some good, big chunks of it. Try reading the whole epistle sometime this week. It's pretty short!- And, yes, it did take me until this week to figure it out!)