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Torch provides a new Catholic homily each week written specially for this web site by Dominican friars, and read by followers worldwide. Read more.

Growing in Confidence

Tuesday, April 28, 2015
Fifth Sunday of Easter. fr Gregory reflects on how the love and mercy of God reach into our lives as we struggle with our selfishness.

Those of us who have studied the New Testament have usually spent hours staring at the Greek text of the first letter of St John since, as it is short and has a small vocabulary, teachers often use it as an introduction, also staring at it for what feels like hours waiting for some student to cast caution to the winds and hazard a translation. Yet while it is concise and employs a limited range of words some of the ideas it presents to us are complex and challenging, as we have heard today. We are told that if our love is ‘real and active …  we will be able to quieten our conscience in his presence whatever accusations it may raise against us, because God is greater than our conscience and he knows everything’. St John, as it happens, does not use the word ‘conscience’ but rather ‘heart’, understood as meaning the core of our personality, echoing many resonances in the Jewish scriptures. The original text is enigmatic, and can be read as either speaking of the severity or of the mercy of God. The first reading would run something like this: ‘In this (by showing the reality of our love in deeds) we shall know that we are living in the truth, because if our heart condemns us God (who knows everything) will condemn us all the more’. The latter interpretation, initially popularised by Luther, and eventually becoming the most widely-accepted version today, would run: ‘before Him we shall calm our heart as to whatever our heart might condemn us for, for God is greater (in forgiving) than our heart and knows all things’. That is, if our heart condemns us God will use his greater knowledge to forgive us; while if our heart does not condemn us we can come into God’s presence with even more confidence. As we approach the holy year of mercy promulgated by pope Francis this second reading seems more apt, even topical. But how are we to apply this to our lives?

I am inclined to think that St John is encouraging us towards the point of conversion, of turning to God. He has told us elsewhere in this letter that anyone who says he doesn’t sin is a liar (or fooling themselves, which humans are particularly good at); however, if we do sin, we have as our defender or paraclete Jesus, who will plead for us in God’s presence. We should then have confidence in God’s forgiveness, which is unconditional and unlimited. We can understand this as an expression of God’s mercy. But mercy does not mean forgetfulness, blotting out the past. If it did, it would not matter what we do – which is decidedly not the point St John is making – since that ignores God’s justice, which the earlier, now less popular, reading of these perplexing verses emphasised. When, at the end of our lives, we stand before God we shall see ourselves as God sees us, with all our masks and evasions stripped away – that is God’s justice. Then, however, we also will be challenged to love ourselves as God loves us, also unconditionally, in spite of what we may have done, to accept his healing and enter, through Jesus our advocate, into his peace. However this again is not necessarily an easy option if during our lives we have become dead to love, escaping its demands and risks by turning into ourselves in our selfishness and fear.

It is important, always, to remember that we are not on our own in this. St John also assures us that if we ask for God’s help we shall receive it, if we are trying – however feebly – to keep his commandments, in the first place by trying to love each other as Jesus, in his life among us, showed us it was possible to do. As the vivid parable from today’s gospel reminds us we have been spliced, grafted into God’s life by the gift of his Spirit; and God lives in us and we in God by virtue of that same Spirit, making holy and bringing the fruits of charity out of such unlikely material as ourselves. If we allow ourselves to be pruned by his word, we shall not wither but can only grow towards God. We should then have the confidence to reach out in love to one another, have the confidence to enter God’s presence with a quiet heart

Readings: Acts 9:26-31|1 John 3:18-24|John 15:1-8

Gregory Murphy O.P.

Gregory Murphy O.P.Fr Gregory Murphy is assigned to the Priory of the Holy Cross, Leicester.
gregory.murphy@english.op.org



Comments

Pearl and Eamon commented on 30-Apr-2015 01:09 PM
Loved this!
Vincent Granata commented on 30-Apr-2015 11:34 PM
Thank you fr Gregory Murphy.

You have strengthened my Love for Jesus.

God bless you and the Dominican friars.

Amen

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