Reading (1 John 3:11-21) Gospel (St. John 1:43-51)
In the first reading today, Saint John reminds us once again of the message we have heard from the beginning; and the message we have heard from the beginning, he tells us, is that we are to love one another. Then he goes on to tell us that we have to love not just in words or in speech, but in deeds. We have to act upon this love.
What exactly does it mean? Well, he tells us straight out that anyone who hates another person is guilty of murder. If we look into our own lives, we can ask ourselves, “Is there anybody that I hate?” Now there is a difference that we need to make, a very clear distinction, between hating the person and hating their actions. If people do things that are evil, we need to reject what they are doing; we need to acknowledge that their actions are wrong. However, that is different from hating the person. We cannot hate the person. Remember the old saying: “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” That is what we have to be about, and we need to keep that distinction very clear in our minds.
What does it mean to love the sinner? It means that we would desire only the good of that person, that we would want that person’s conversion, that we would want the person to be able to go to heaven. There are some people I have talked to, for instance, and when they look at someone who has hurt them terribly, they will say straight out, “I don’t want them to go to heaven. I don’t want to be with that person for the rest of eternity!” In heaven, all there is going to be is love. If we have such hatred in our hearts for somebody that we would not want them to go to heaven, then we cannot go there either. That is the problem. Remember what Our Lord told us with regard to the Our Father when He pulled the one statement out about forgiveness and said, If you do not forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will not forgive you yours. So this is not something that is optional for us. We like to try to justify ourselves and why it is okay for us to be the way we are, but there is no justification. If we are going to say that we believe in Jesus, how can we then turn around and say, “But I’m justified in hating; I’m justified in refusing to love”? We cannot.
Now love is not about happy feelings. Jesus is not saying to be gushy toward somebody you do not like. That is not what He is saying at all. He is telling us that we have to have true virtue, that the virtue of charity requires that we would treat somebody–even if we would consider them an enemy–with charity, that we would seek what is truly the best for them, that we would pray for them, that we would not be holding a grudge against them. These are not easy things that the Lord is asking of us, but remember that we profess to follow Somebody who looked at His executioners and said, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. If He can do that and the martyrs have been able to do that, we too have the grace to be able to do that. Saint John makes very clear that anyone who hates his brother is a murderer. It falls under the Fifth Commandment: Thou shalt not kill. To hold a grudge, to hate, these are violations of the Fifth Commandment. And Saint John says that we know the love of God does not exist in any murderer’s heart. So if we want to be able to say that we love God yet we do not act upon it, if we walk around holding lots of hatred in our hearts, the true love of God is not there. No matter how much we want to talk about it, the reality is that we betray our own selves with our actions. And so we need to try to adjust ourselves so that our hearts are united with His, so that our hearts become like His.
Now if you look at your own self and you say, “But I look inside and see that there is indeed some hatred, that there are people whom I don’t forgive, that there are people whom I have a grudge against–what do I do?” then go to the Lord and ask Him for the grace to be able to forgive, to be able to let go, to be able to love these people that have hurt you or that you do not even like. Pray for the grace to love them. That is what Our Lord would ask of us. Pray for those people. That is the quickest way to break through any kind of hatred or anger or anything else that is in our hearts. Pray for those people. Ask God to bless them. Ask Him to bring about their conversion. Ask Him to help them grow in virtue. It is in doing that that you are doing the most loving thing for them. Eventually, what will happen is that the charity you are exercising toward them through prayer is going to wind up changing your heart so that the hatred is no longer there. You cannot do acts of true charity and continue to hate; the charity will eventually win out.
If we see that we are harboring anything that is not good then we realize, not that we do not love God at all, but that we are not loving God the way we are supposed to and we are not allowing the love of God to reign in our hearts. So we need to make the adjustments. That is what we are looking for, and that is what Saint John is telling us. We can have complete confidence in God, he tells us, if we turn to Him. Whatever our hearts condemn in us, he tells us, we need to turn to God with confidence. And so if our hearts are condemning us because we hold anger or grudges or hatred or whatever it might be, then turn to God with confidence and know that there is nothing more that He would want for us than to be able to have our hearts filled with His love. If we are willing to make the effort, we can be guaranteed that His grace will make up for whatever might be lacking in us, and that His grace will change our hearts to become like His–His heart is nothing but love; that is all–and when we are able to do that, then we are living the commandment that we have been given, the commandment, Saint John tells us, that we have from the very beginning: that we must love one another.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.