Wednesday, 26 June 2019 17:44

Unconditional Love

Written by Fr. Colum Power

I once heard a priest give this response to the scandals that have occurred in the Church: he asked us if we wanted to be followers of Judas Iscariot the betrayer, or followers of Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, our Crucified Saviour. He asked us if it was logical to use the betrayal of Judas as an excuse to “justify” our own betrayal, or if it should rather impel us to be even more faithful to the God who was handed over with a kiss for thirty pieces of silver. It was a very good question. Judas Iscariot was one of the chosen twelve, but he was unfaithful to the One who chose him. He sold Him out for thirty pieces of silver. Jesus said of him: “It would have been better for that man if he had never been born” (Mt. 26, 24). Strong language? Yes it is, but these are the words of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, second Person of the Most Holy Trinity. We must ask ourselves: “Am I a follower of Judas the betrayer, or a follower of the betrayed Christ? How am I responding to the grace of my baptism?”. God will surely judge Judas for his sins, but He will just as surely judge me for mine. 

 

There is a sentence in one of the documents of the Vatican Council II which is tremendously clear on this point. It says: “Let not the children of the Church forget that they must not attribute their excellent condition [as children of God by virtue of their baptism] to their own merits, but rather to a singular grace from Christ, a grace to which they must respond with thought, deed and word, failing which, far from being saved, they will be judged with greater severity,” (L.G. 14).

Perhaps what is most wrong with contemporary “Christianity” is the confusion of mercy with tolerance of sin, with indulgence towards vice, with patience towards error. This is not Christianity; it is a watered-down travesty of Christianity and it is wreaking havoc everywhere it is preached. It is an emasculated “Christianity” that would have the father getting down on his knees before the prodigal son to beg his forgiveness for having put him in the situation of having to eat pigs’ leftovers. This is not Christ’s Gospel! We are called to love the sinner and hate the sin, to proclaim the truth with charity, to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth, not the artificial sweetener.

The words “mercy” and “unconditional love” are very fashionable nowadays, as if God were a doting grandfather in an advanced state of Alzeimhers, instead of the all-knowing, all powerful, all-seeing Father who penetrates the very depths of the human heart. Yes, God is good, but God is not stupid! Everyone talks about mercy, no-one talks about repentance. But God’s mercy is of little use to me if I don’t ask Him to forgive me. Before Jesus was able to say, “This very day you will be with me in Paradise,” the repentant thief had to say, “Remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” God’s mercy is an inexhaustible fountain, but I can die of thirst if I refuse to cup my hands and drink. 

Freedom is one of the fundamental and indispensable laws of love.

God cannot forgive us unless we ask Him to, because He respects our freedom and we can use that freedom to turn our backs on Him and go to Hell! For God to be able to forgive us, we have to recognise first of all that we are sinners. The only unforgiveable sin is to deny that I’m a sinner. This was the sin of the Pharisees, and it is rampant in our times. Nobody is a sinner! Nobody goes to Confession. Worse still, many are receiving the Body and Blood of Christ in Communion with their souls in mortal sin. St. Paul tells us that in doing so, “they are eating and drinking their own condemnation.” Therefore, to encourage someone who is in mortal sin to go to Confession is one of the greatest acts of charity that we can possibly perform.

Many people have said to me: “Shouldn’t you be more tolerant when God has had so much mercy on you; afterall you had a conversion, didn’t you?.” My answer is this: if I see someone walking backwards towards the edge of a cliff, I am obliged by charity to call out to him with all my strengths. He may take offence and chastise me for shouting at him, but this is a “risk” I have to take. In the same way, if I see someone jeopardising not only his happiness in this life but also his eternal salvation in the next, I am obliged by charity to call out to him with urgency, to warn him with all the love in my heart, no matter how he may react. It is something I am bound to do in conscience, even if it provokes rejection. The fact that I have experienced in my own flesh the truth of St. Paul’s words, “The wages of sin is death,” impel me to cry out with even greater urgency when I see someone heading towards the abyss. 

Of course, once we have the humility to kneel before Christ and to implore his forgiveness with tears in our eyes, He delights in forgiving us, his mercy is overwhelming, He gives us a new life and a joy that we cannot imagine. The word “repentance” is unpopular only because it is misunderstood. It’s not about recognising that I have broken the rules, that I have transgressed against a moral code. It is about recognising that I have offended a Person named Jesus Christ who loves me. It is the experience of true and sincere sorrow for having hurt the One who most loves me and who has given me everything have and everything I am. And it changes everything. It renews our friendship with God, because God loves a humble and contrite heart, He loves to forgive, and He longs to restore His relationship with us, but He has to wait until we ask Him because He respects our freedom. Once there is repentance, our sins, no matter how enormous and unforgivable they may seem, are like so many reeds of straw cast into the blazing furnace of God’s love and mercy. Repentance and Confession are the bridge from guilt to innocence, from sin to grace, from death to life, from imprisonment and misery to freedom and joy.

This is the message of Christ’s Gospel! And it bears fruit, because it has fire and salt and the power to move hearts. Let us not be so foolish as to join Judas instead of following the betrayed Jesus with even more loyalty and generosity than before. In our Pope we have a beacon of light and truth. The Church, like Christ, will rise again, to even greater glory than it has ever enjoyed before. In the meantime, the wheat is being separated from the chaff. Let us make sure that we will be found among the wheat and not among the chaff, among the sheep and not among the goats, lest Our Lord one day say to us: “Depart from me you accursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Mt. 25, 41). May we live and die, rather, in such a way that He may say to us: “Come, blessed of my Father, take possession of the kingdom that has been prepared for you since the foundation of the world” (Mt. 25, 34).

More in this category: « St. Monica and St. Augustine