January 3, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Friday Before Epiphany
Reading (1 John 2:29-3:6) Gospel (St. John 1:29-34)
In the first reading today, Saint John reminds us about our dignity and tells us to consider the love of God – so much love that God calls us His own children. And then we have to look at the other side of it. Because we are God’s children, Saint John says that we need to make ourselves pure, as Christ is pure. We can look at that then and ask ourselves, “What are we to do?” Saint John tells us very clearly that we need to get rid of sin in our lives: “Everyone who commits sin commits lawlessness.” But he says, “No one who remains in Him sins, and the one who sins has never seen Him or known Him.” So we need to be working toward eradicating sin from our lives, to be pure as He is pure, to be true children of God, because God has ultimately but one Son and each of us is to be a member of Christ; therefore, we are to mold ourselves according to Christ.
Saint John the Baptist tells us what that is to be. He points out the Lord and says, “Behold the Lamb of God,” and then tells us that what happened when the Father revealed His Son to him is that it was revealed that this One is the Son of God. So if we are sons and daughters of God, we have to be just like Christ – not only to pure and sinless as Christ – but also to be sacrificial as Christ, to be a lamb of God, to be united with Him in His sacrifice. Saint John tells us that it is He who came to take away sin and to baptize in the Holy Spirit, which means that in Christ our sins can be forgiven and we will be filled with the Holy Spirit.
Everything is there for us to be able to do what we are called to do as children of God. The difficulty is not on God’s side, but on ours. It is a question of how much we really want to do this. Do we really want to be pure, as He is pure? Do we really want to mold ourselves to be true children of God? Or do we want to do the minimum that is required to be able to see if we can eke in? “If we can just keep ourselves in the state of grace long enough so that we die that way, then at least we know we’re going to go to Heaven.” That is an unfortunate way to look at it: loving God as little as we possibly can so that we can get out of it what we want. That is the wrong attitude.
Saint John says, “See what love the Father has bestowed on us.” Love requires love in return. What kind of love have we bestowed on God? Have we returned like for like? Have we recognized the love that God has for us in Christ and embraced that love by returning it the same way, by trying to make ourselves pure, by allowing ourselves to be sacrificed to Christ, by uniting ourselves with Him in all things? That is the kind of love that we should have in return for what God has given to us. To be true children of God means we must be like Christ. We must try to remove sin from our lives, we must try to be pure as He is pure, and in so doing, we will have a pure sacrifice to offer to God because it is offered in union with the sacrifice of Jesus. That is what the Lord is looking for from us. That is our return for the love that God has given to us.
The devil, in his shrewdness, has made every effort to make sure that we do not recognize the love of God. Most people do not accept their dignity. They do not really believe that they are children of God; they do not really believe that they are members of Jesus Christ. In their head, they accept the truth of it – but in their hearts, they are not anywhere near accepting this. And because they cannot accept it, they cannot accept that their sins are really forgiven, they cannot accept that God has incorporated them into Christ and all the truths that point to our dignity; therefore, they do not really try to overcome sin, they do not try to be pure, they do not unite themselves with the Lord in His sacrifice, because they do not believe in the love that God has for them. Therefore, they do not see any necessity to return the love to God because they do not recognize it in the first place.
We need to look very carefully at that. Take that to prayer: pray about our own dignity, pray about the love for God, and accept God’s love and His mercy. And then ask yourself, “If these things are true – and they are! – what is required of me? If I am a son (or a daughter) of God, a member of Jesus Christ, what does God expect of me?” He expects us to be just like Jesus.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.