3rd Sunday of Easter
Fr. Joseph Levine; April 18, 2021
Readings: Act 3:13-15,17-19; Psalm 4:2,4,7-9; 1 Jn 2:1-5; Lk 24:35-48
Last Sunday I spoke about the solid reality of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. He is no mere ghost. He showed to his Apostles that he, whom they had seen crucified, was again a living man, with flesh and bones, never to die again. This is the solid reality that lies at the foundation of our faith. This is a life-changing reality because it is a life-giving reality.
Jesus then commissioned his Apostles as his witnesses to the ends of the earth, proclaiming forgiveness of sins in his name and, together with the forgiveness of sins, comes the life of grace. This same solid reality of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, is given to us in the Holy Eucharist. He is the Alpha and the Omega and our life must revolve around him.
He would lead us to walk in the newness of life, the life of virtue; the power of his resurrection gives us the power to overcome our weakness and walk in his strength.
CS Lewis, in his book “The Great Divorce” portrayed heaven as a beautiful hill country leading up into grand and majestic mountains. Parkdale on a beautiful spring day would be a shadowland in comparison with the bright reality of heaven. In the heavenly country that CS Lewis sought to describe every blade of grass, every runlet from a brook, every ray of light was so real that it hurt people who entered that world with little more than the phantom existence they had acquired on earth. As a result, they preferred the dull gray shadowland of hell to the bright reality of heavenly life. Yet, if they would only agree to endure the pain of that bright reality, they would slowly grow stronger, more real, and more capable of living in reality and so capable of living forever in the beautiful country. That is the path we must follow to leave the life of sin, to practice virtue, and grow accustomed to the reality of the heavenly life, which we share already in the life of grace.
Now, since Jesus has risen from the dead, forgiven our sins and bestowed upon us the life of grace, we must not, St. John tells us, commit sin. Nevertheless, should we fall, we have confidence in the expiation that he made on our behalf and which is renewed in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, “for the forgiveness of sins”.
As for sin, there are two types of sin we should consider here: Mortal sin and venial sin.
Mortal sin is the knowing and deliberate violation of one of God’s commandments in a serious matter. We must above all avoid mortal sin, for mortal sin drives away the Holy Spirit and kills the life of grace in our soul. The saints tell us that we should most surely prefer to suffer torture and to die than to offend God by committing even a single mortal sin. Yet, even should we fall into mortal sin, so long as we remain in this life, the way of return is open to us through the door of the confessional.
Then there is venial sin, which falls short of mortal sin either through ignorance, or lack of consent, or lightness of matter. If we wish to show ourselves grateful to God for the gift we have received in Jesus Christ, me must strive to overcome even venial sin in our life and so also grow in the life of virtue.
Nevertheless, it is in regard to venial sin that Scripture tells us, the just man falls seven times a day, and rises up again. (Pr 24:16) And St. John writes in this regard, if we say, ‘We have not sinned,’ we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 Jn 1:10)
So, while me must strive to avoid venial sin, we should not be surprised or discouraged at our failure, but turn back once again to God, begging his pardon, and continue in his way. If we do that our venial sins will be like the falls of a child who is learning to walk; our heavenly Father is less concerned about our falls than about our constant effort to walk.
In general, we must take sin seriously, we must recognize our weakness, we must rely on the grace of God, and we must not give way to either discouragement or despair.
On the one hand, a person offends against God’s mercy if he recognizes his sin and his weakness and then gives way to discouragement and despair. He acts as though God cannot or will not forgive his sin. He acts as though Jesus died to condemn us rather than to save us. He acts as though his wickedness is greater than God’s love. He refuses to believe that God is capable of purifying and sanctifying him.
On the other hand, too many people do not take sin seriously. They are guilty of the sin of presumption. They say: “God is merciful, he will forgive me.” Yet, they make no effort to turn to God and leave off sinning. Or they say, “My sin wasn’t that bad. God is not concerned about such small matters.” Or they say, “The commandments belong to the Old Testament and the Pharisees, now the only commandment that matters is love.”
The one who gives way to discouragement and despair recognizes only half the truth, the gravity of his sin, but fails to recognize the greater half, the greatness of God’s mercy. The one who gives way to presumption fails to recognize the lesser half of the truth, the truth of his sin, and he also falsifies the greater half, the truth of God’s mercy. In the process he puts himself in great danger of self-deception.
St. John, in writing about the love of God is very careful to warn us against self-deception.
Today we heard him warn us: Those who say, ‘I know him,’ but do not keep his commandments are liars, and the truth is not in them. Jesus is God, the Son of God. God’s commandments are his commandments. When we think of the ten commandments, we should see them in relation to Jesus. He says to us: “I am the Lord your God, who led you out of slavery to sin and death; you shall not have any gods before me.”
How many people are there who think they know God, who think they know Jesus, who can speak fine words, who have all sorts of ‘experiences’, but are deceiving others and worse, deceiving themselves, because they fail to keep the commandments of God. How often do they excuse themselves saying, “It is alright because I love. That is all that counts. Love wins.”
Let us think about this for a moment. Someone can have a warm personality, be the sort of person that you just want to open your heart to and trust, but if he does not keep the commandments, watch out! He could easily be a seducer and a charlatan. I understand that Theodore McCarrick was a very charming man.
A person needs to keep all the commandments and practice all the virtues.
If a person is kind, compassionate, and considerate – so should we all be – but breaks the 6th commandment, “Thou shalt not commit adultery”, he makes ill use of his kindness to win sexual favors. Or he might break the 7th commandment, “Thou shalt not steal”, making ill use of his kindness to commit fraud. Or he might listen to a woman in distress, contemplating having an abortion, listen with great kindness and understanding, and tell her in the end, “Go ahead and do what is in your heart,” leading her to think it is alright to have the abortion. So he ends up complicit in the murder of a pre-born baby, in violation of the 5th commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.” Then he goes to Mass, receives communion and says, “Jesus, I love you.” He feels good about himself because he knows that he is kind, compassionate, and considerate. He is deceived. Jesus is not.
There is no true love without virtue and there is no true virtue without keeping the commandments, because one virtue cannot exist on its own, but must always be part of a whole life of virtue. The way of life, the life that comes from the resurrection, is the way of the commandments and the practice of virtue, lived in relation to Jesus Christ, our Lord, our God, our Savior.
Unless, kindness, compassion, and thoughtfulness, which are very popular qualities, are inserted into the whole life of faith, hope, and charity, expressed through prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance, they may be good dispositions, but they are not true virtues. Then the goodness that is in them easily turns to evil purposes.
Pure evil does not exist; evil is nothing more than a perversion or misdirection of something good. Complete virtue, however, always does good and can never be used for evil.
Whoever keeps his word, the love of God is truly perfected in him.
Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, is the center. Our life must revolve around him. That means listening to him, keeping his word, keeping his commandments. This is the way of the love of God. This is the way of eternal life. In this way the love of God is perfected in us and the Holy Spirit comes to dwell within us. Then we truly come to know him. Then we no longer will live in the world of our fantasies, but in the world of truth and reality that God created.