FRANKLY, I feel unworthy of writing on the present subject, as one who has loved the Lord so poorly. Everyday I set out to love Him, but by the time I enter an examination of conscience, I find that I have loved myself more. And the words of St. Paul become my own:
I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate… For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do… Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Rom 7:15-19, 24)
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (vs. 25)
Indeed, Scripture says that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9 The Sacrament of Reconciliation becomes the bridge over which we cross again into the arms of Jesus, into the arms of our Father.
But then, don’t we find that sometimes, just mere hours later, we have stumbled again? An impatient moment, a curt word, a lustful glance, a selfish action and so forth. And at once we are saddened. “I have failed to love you again, Lord, ‘with all my heart, soul, strength, mind, and understanding.'” And the ‘accuser of the brethren’ comes, Satan, our infernal enemy, and he damns and he damns and he damns. And I feel I should believe him because I look in the mirror and see the evidence. I am guilty—and so easily at that. “No, I have not loved you as I should Lord. For You yourself said, ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments.’ John 14:15 O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”
And the circle continues. What now?
The answer is this: you and I are loving Jesus when we begin again… and again, and again, and again. If Christ forgives you “seventy times seven” times, it is because you, of your own free will, have returned to Him “seventy times seven” times. That’s hundreds of little acts of love that say to God over and over again, “Here I am again, Lord, because I want to love you, despite myself… Yes Lord, You know that I love you.”
GOD’S LOVE IS CONSTANT
Hasn’t God proven His unconditional love for us in that “while we were still sinners Christ died for us”? Rom 5:8 So, this is not a question of whether He still loves you or me, but whether we love Him. “But I fall short every day, and sometimes several times a day! I must not love Him!” Is that true?
God knows that every single human being, because of the wound of original sin, bears within their flesh an inclination toward sin called concupiscence. St. Paul calls it the “law of sin which dwells in my members,” Rom 7:23 a strong pull toward the senses, appetites and passions, toward earthly and sensual pleasure. Now, on the one hand, no matter how strong you feel these inclinations, they do not mean that you love God less. Temptation, no matter how intense, is not sin. So, the first thing is to say, “Okay, I feel an intense desire to punch this person… or surf pornography… or medicate my hurt with alcohol…” or whatever temptation it may be. But those passions are not, in themselves, sins. Only when we act upon them.
But what if we do?
Let’s be clear. Some sins are a way of totally and entirely not loving God. “Mortal” or “grave” sin is, in fact, a complete repudiation of God’s love for you such that you cut yourself off entirely from His grace. “Those who do such things,” taught St. Paul, “shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” Gal 5:21 So, if you are involved in such sin, you must do more than go to Confession, which is the beginning; you’ve got to do everything you can to uproot and completely abandon those sins, even if that means entering an addiction program, seeing a counsellor, or breaking off certain relationships.
THE UNBROKEN FRIENDSHIP
But what of sin that is not grave, or what is called “venial” sin? St. Thomas Aquinas noted that God’s grace is needed to heal our nature, and it can do so in “the mind”—which is the seat of our will. As St. Paul said, “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” Rom 12:2 However, the carnal part of us, the flesh…
…is not completely healed. Hence the Apostle says of the person healed by grace, ‘I serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.’ In this state a person can avoid mortal sin… but he cannot avoid all venial sin, due to the corruption of his sensual appetite. —St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I-II, q. 109, a. 8
So, how is it possible to love God if we still fall into our old habits and stumble in our weaknesses? The Catechism states:
Deliberate and unrepented venial sin disposes us little by little to commit mortal sin. However venial sin does not break the covenant with God. With God’s grace it is humanly reparable. “Venial sin does not deprive the sinner of sanctifying grace, friendship with God, charity, and consequently eternal happiness.” —Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1863
Is it just me, or does that teaching bring a smile across your face too? Did Jesus abandon His Apostles when they repeatedly behaved “in the flesh,” bickered, or displayed little faith? On the contrary:
No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends… (John 15:15)
Friendship with Jesus is “knowing” what He wants of us, of His plan for you and the world, and then becoming a part of that plan. So friendship with Christ is indeed to do what he commands us: “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” John 15:14 But if we fall into venial sin, He also commands us:
Confess your sins to one another… (James 5:16)
…[for] he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
A CLOSING WORD ON TEMPTATION
Last, do you not prove to God your love precisely when you are so ruthlessly tempted… and yet, hold fast? I have been teaching myself in those moments 0f trial to change my thinking, to not saying, “I must not sin!” to rather “Jesus, let me prove my love for You!” What a difference it makes to change the frame of reference into one of love! Indeed, God allows these trials precisely for us to prove our love for Him while at the same time strengthening and purifying our character.
Since [concupiscence] is left to provide a trial, it has no power to injure those who do not consent and who, by the grace of Christ Jesus, manfully resist. —Council of Trent, De peccato originali, can. 5
Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing… Blessed is the man who endures trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him. (James 1:2, 12)
God loves you, and He knows you love Him. Not because you are perfect, but because you desire to be.
Your financial support and prayers are why
you are reading this today.
Bless you and thank you.
To journey with Mark in The Now Word,
click on the banner below to subscribe.
Your email will not be shared with anyone.
[ + ]
|1.||↑||1 John 1:9|