THE JOY OF RECONCILING MAN WITH GOD
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ 1 JOHN 5:14-21; PSALM 149:1-6, 9; JOHN 3:22-30 ]
Christmas celebrates the gift of God to us in the person of Jesus. In assuming our humanity, Jesus reveals to us our identity as children of God. Indeed, God became man so that man could become god. However, many of us fail to recognize our dignity as children of God and as a consequence do not live as one. This is because of sin. Indeed, our sins prevent us from being conscious of our identity as sons and daughters of God.
St John in the first reading warns us of the danger of sin. “Every kind of wrong-doing is sin, but not all sin is deadly.” The truth is that a man begins by committing small sins. If such things spring from his wounded nature and the manifestation of his human weakness, it is a venial sin. Such sins are normally committed because of temptations and the weakness of the will to resist sin. Such sins can be forgiven through prayers and the reception of the sacraments. This is why, St John says, “If anybody sees his brother commit a sin that is not a deadly sin, he has only to pray, and God will give life to the sinner – not those who commit a deadly sin; for there is a sin that is death, and I will not say that you must pray about that.”
However, the sins that really destroy us are those deliberate sins which we purposefully seek to commit, knowing full well that it is a sin. When such sins are planned and a person chooses to go against God’s will and hurt his neighbours, it is a serious sin leading to death. Hence, we call them mortal sins. St Paul says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 6:23) The truth is that one begins with a small sin and then we become more daring and commit bigger sins because our hearts and minds are clouded by our sins and selfishness. After some time, what is sinful and serious is no longer felt in our conscience. We become dead to sin and as the consequence of sin, we hurt ourselves more and more by hurting others.
Once we commit a serious sin, unless we repent and turn to God in contrition, it will lead to a repetition of our sins. This is what the Lord warns us. That is why a sin of lust will lead to another and more serious sin of lust. Jesus taught, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Mt 5:27f) An act of anger will lead to revenge and eventually killing. “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” (Mt 5:21f)
Prayers will help a person to grow in holiness and be attuned to the will of God. “We are quite confident that if we ask the Son of God for anything, and it is in accordance with his will, he will hear us; and, knowing that whatever we may ask, he hears us, we know that we have been granted what we ask of him.” St John is saying that Christ will hear our prayers if we pray in accordance with His will. Indeed, all prayers are directed towards finding and doing the will of God. Many of us think that prayer is to change the mind of God. Rather, prayer is to align ourselves with His holy will, which is always best for us. That is why, if our prayers are to be answered, we need to be obedient to His will. Indeed, we must ask whatever the Lord wants of us. Jesus said, “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” (Jn 14:13f) To ask in the name of Jesus is to ask everything for His sake and for the glory of His name. Therefore, there is nothing more effective in growing in holiness than through prayers and intimacy with the Lord.
Prayers will help us to know Jesus. Knowledge of Jesus is the key to overcoming our sins because using our will is not sufficient because the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. St Paul struggled with sin himself. “Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom 7:21-25) Indeed, through our own strength alone, we cannot be delivered from sin except in the power of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faith in Jesus’ love and mercy helps us to conquer sin, not out of fear of punishment but out of love for the Lord.
This is what St John meant when he wrote that if we are baptized, we will not sin. “We know that anyone who has been begotten by God does not sin, because the begotten Son of God protects him, and the Evil One does not touch him.” It does not mean that Christians can no longer sin. What St John meant is that we do not sin deliberately because of God’s spirit in us. But we will still sin out of weakness. However, we do not fall into despair but continue to trust in the mercy of God, knowing that He has won victory over sin. “We know that we belong to God, but the whole world lies in the power of the Evil One. We know, too, that the Son of God has come, and has given us the power to know the true God. We are in the true God, as we are in his Son, Jesus Christ.” This is what baptism is all about. We have Jesus in the gospel baptizing in the river Jordan. To be baptized is to ask for forgiveness of our sins and most of all, to be filled with the Spirit of Jesus so that we can share in His sonship.
Today, like John the Baptist, we are called to direct sinners to the Lord. Today, it is very difficult to convince people of the truth because of relativism. We are bombarded with all kinds of philosophy and reasoning. There is so much information and so many viewpoints on any issue that many of us are more confused than ever after reading all the different views. We no longer know what is right or wrong anymore. When reasoning and all arguments fail, the sure way to get people to accept Jesus is to lead them to Him. If they know Jesus and if they fall in love with Him, then they will be able to see everything from the perspective of our Lord in the scriptures. So instead of seeking to reason out with those who are disagreeable, although, it still might be necessary at times to defend our faith, yet, the better approach is through the testimony of our lives and our faith. Only through a life of holiness and faith in our Lord, can we convince others to come to Him so that He can be the Lord of their lives.
For this reason, we must pray for sinners even as we seek to reach out to them in compassion and love. Our Lady, in all her apparitions, constantly urged us to repent and pray for sinners. If words cannot change them, then prayers will change their hearts through God’s grace. It is not enough just to pray for physical health and material needs. If the body is important, how much more important is the soul because that soul is destined for eternal life. We need to pray for the salvation of souls so that united with the Lord, they are saved for eternity, not just for this world. If God answers prayers for material and physical needs, more so, He will hear our prayers for the conversion of sinners.
Indeed, like John the Baptist, great is our joy when we bring a sinner to Jesus to be reconciled with God. “The bride is only for the bridegroom; and yet the bridegroom’s friend, who stands there and listens, is glad when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. This same joy I feel, and now it is complete.” In bringing sinners back to God, we also save our own souls. St James wrote, “My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.” (Jms 5:19f) Indeed, like John the Baptist, we must be conscious of our role as mediator to Jesus. Once that is done, we should move aside and not be an obstacle for others to come to know the Lord. With John the Baptist, we say, “I myself am not the Christ; I am the one who has been sent in front of him. He must grow greater, I must grow smaller.”
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
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