Friday, April 29, 2016

The Key to Overcoming Sin

SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER (C)
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Jesus said to his disciples:
“Whoever loves me will keep my word,
and my Father will love him,
and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.
Whoever does not love me does not keep my words;
yet the word you hear is not mine
but that of the Father who sent me."

-John 14:23-24

This Sunday's gospel reading is taken from the section in John's gospel where Jesus tells the disciples that He will be leaving them.  But He promises to send another, the Advocate, the Spirit of Truth.  Moreover, Jesus promises that even though we will not be able to see Him, He will still be with us "because I live and you live," and "I am in my Father and you are in me and I am in you" (Jn 14:19-20).  

What Jesus is describing is a great mystery.  He speaks of the mutual indwelling of the Holy Trinity.  Jesus Christ, the Divine Son of God, lives within the Father and the Holy Spirit.  The Father lives within the Son and the Spirit.  And the Spirit dwells within the Father and the Son.  Three Divine Persons, loving one another so intimately as to exist within one another.  This unfathomable intimacy is what Christ promises us a share in when He says that "you are in me and I am in you."  

All the mystery and magic of the inner life of God -- the life of divine love -- exists within the very hearts of the Christian who lives in a state of grace.  We can become part of that divine life.  This intimate experience of the Trinity is what awaits us in heaven, but we can also begin to experience it to a lesser degree right now.   The Maker of the Universe wants to make His home within you.  Wow. 

What must we do to gain entry into this most mysterious and intimate relationships of love?  Jesus begins this section of the gospel by saying, "If you love me, keep my commands" (Jn 14:15).  

We mustn't presume that Jesus is asking us to prove our love for Him with this statement.  He is not like the frustrated paramour who says, "If you really love me, you will do this for me."  He is not asking for demonstrations of affection.  

Jesus is stating a truth, which restates in our current reading: "Whoever loves me will keep my word" (Jn 14:23).  Note the order.  If you love me, then you will keep my word.  Not if you keep my word, then you will truly love me.  I suggest that if we struggle with serious sin -- and all of us have at some point in our lives -- it is because we try to do things in the wrong order.  

Sin can seem inescapable at times, especially sin which has become habitual or even addictive.  We can know that sin is evil.  We can hate the sin.  We can be filled with a hatred of the evil that we do.  And we can still commit that same sin.  Why?  (And if you think this is a problem that the saints don't struggle with, read Rom 7:19).

Anyone who has struggled with overcoming serious sin will tell you that hatred for sin is not enough.  Every sin has something attractive about it -- if it did not, then it would not tempt us.  But as we grow in our moral understanding and realize how wrong our sin is, our love for sin diminishes and we can -- rightly -- learn to hate our sin.  We hate our sin because of the harm that it does to us, and to our relationship with God.  We hate it for the control it seems to have over us.  We hate it because we cannot stop.  And we cannot stop because hating our sin is not enough.

Whoever loves me will keep my word.  Jesus tells us precisely what we must do to exit our life of sin and begin living a life of grace.  We must love Him.  Only then will we be able to keep His commands.  

Jesus' commands are hard.  He commands us to love not only our friends, but our enemies.  That's hard.  He commands us to forgive those who persecute us.  That's hard.  He commands us to keep the commandments not only in letter, but in spirit, not even allowing lust or hatred, envy or greed into our hears.  That's hard.  He commands us to be perfect, as the Father is perfect.  That's not just hard, that's impossible -- unless we love Jesus Christ with everything we've got.

You can live your whole life trying to follow all the moral commandments and it would never be enough.  Jesus told the rich young man who had kept the commandments for his entire life that he still lacked one thing -- to sell all that he had and to follow Christ (Mt 19:21).  If we are truly in love with Jesus, there is nothing we would not gladly leave behind to follow Him, whether it be our personal wealth, or our personal sins.  

Ultimately it is not hatred of our sins nor the fear of going to hell that will get us into heaven.  Only true love for Jesus Christ will get us there.  When we fall into sin it is because part of us loves the sin more than Christ - part of us desires the pleasure of the sin more than the joy and peace Christ offers. 

When we love someone, it becomes a joy for us to do what that person desires.  We want nothing more than to please our beloved.  This is why small children bring flowers to their mothers.  This is why husbands and wives are "subject to one another" (Eph 5:21).  This is why we honor our parents.  All of these things are done for love. 

If we love Christ -- not just give Him lip service, or say we "believe in" Him, but truly are in love with Him -- then we will begin to want only what He wants, and desire only what He calls good.  The more we fall in love with Christ, the less attractive will sin be to us.  The more we love Christ, the easier the commandments are to follow.  The more we love Christ, the more we will know peace.

This is one of this aspects of the Christian life that is easy to say and hard to do.  Very few of us love Jesus perfectly.  This is why the saints are so important, as examples to us of that perfect love of God.  This is also why it is important for us to pray every day for the grace to love Him more.
Dear Jesus, I don’t know how to love you as I ought. I beg you to show me how to love you. I want to be free from the shackles of my sin. I know that you have great plans for me. I desire to live the freedom of chastity and to fulfill my vocation to love in whatever capacity you are calling me to. Show me how to love you. Help me to make every decision not out of fear of hell but out of love for you. Please help me to be free of the oppression of sin. Protect me in times of trial and temptation, and in these moments, lead me ever closer to your Sacred Heart. Jesus, I trust in you. Amen.

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