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  • Father David M. Knight

Father David's Reflection for the Saturday between Epiphany and the Baptism of the Lord

The Responsorial Psalm assures us, “The Lord takes delight in his people” (Psalm 149). That includes us.

1 John 5: 14-21 keeps insisting that “we know” God takes delight in us because “we are… in his Son Jesus Christ.” Because we are “in Christ,” sharing in his divine life, God is able to “see and love in us what he sees and loves in Christ” (Sunday Preface VII). God’s own truth and love are in us, and they are our own reality. That is a fact more basic than our lapses in living by them. Our sins are failures to live up to what we are, but we still are what we are.

There is “deadly” or “mortal” sin that separates us from live union with Jesus. There is also sin that does not: “All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that is not deadly.” How know the difference?

Before Vatican II Catholics were taught that many things were “mortal sin” which in fact were not. These errors probably grew from a sincere pastoral concern to keep people from doing things that could be very damaging to themselves or others. Legal terminology like “grave obligation” and phrases like “serious matter” used by preachers and teachers were gradually assumed to be interchangeable with the precise theological term “grave matter,” which is an identifying element of “mortal sin.” Then all who failed to keep any law labeled “grave obligation,” or through weakness engaged in any forbidden self-indulgence, especially sexual, thought themselves rejected by God, deprived of divine life, excluded from receiving the Body and Blood of Christ in Eucharist, and judged to deserve eternal Hell. This is “cultural-Catholic guilt,” and a long way from what John taught!

John’s focus is on the mystery of the divine life we receive by believing in Jesus Christ. God’s “steadfast love” will never withdraw this life from us. We can reject God’s life by withdrawing from Christ — either by explicit rejection of him (which John equates with rejection of the Christian community), or by the cool, deliberate choice to act in a way so maliciously evil it is totally incompatible with Christ’s life in us.

John 3: 22-30 highlights the mystery of our salvation by contrasting the gesture of repentance through the baptism John the Baptizer gave before Christ’s death and resurrection with the sacramental Baptism through which we “become Christ.” The first gave benefits proportionate to one’s repentance. The second gives a transformation on the scale of God’s infinite power and love. It is this transformation God sees when “The Lord takes delight in his people.” It is also what we should see.

Initiative: If you want to know Jesus, accept him as universal Savior. Don’t exclude yourself or others from being “in grace” by un-informed judgments about sin.

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