He has Given Us the Grace to Know Him
May 4, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Third Sunday of Easter
Reading I (Acts 3:13-15, 17-19)
Reading II (1 John 2:1-5a)
Gospel (St. Luke 24:35-48)
He, of course, is God from all eternity, Who became Man in the womb of His mother. He had preached this truth throughout His life. In fact, the very first words of His public life were: Repent, and believe in the Gospel. His whole message was one of repentance, but so too was the message of Saint John the Baptist. And while the people understood the notion of repentance, they did not understand at that point that the only way they could have their sins forgiven was in the Name of Jesus Christ.
The people of the Old Testament offered sacrifices – the sheep, the goats, the rams, the bulls and so on, all the blood of the various animals – for the forgiveness of sin. But it did not actually forgive the sin; it simply covered it over, but it did not take it away. It is not possible for the blood of an animal to remove something which is human because something which is lesser cannot take away the sins of something which is greater. And since the dignity of a human being is nearly infinitely greater than the dignity of an animal (since we are not infinite, it is not quite infinitely greater; but it is of no comparison, the dignity of a human person with the dignity of an animal), the blood of an animal cannot take away our sins. It cannot make up for what we do. An animal is not a person; an animal is not rational; an animal cannot make a free act of the will. Only a person can do that. That is why it is so essential that Jesus says, “No one takes My life from Me; I lay it down freely.” It was the owner of the animal that decided which animal would die. The animal did not decide to do that. The animal could not make any sort of act of the will to say, “I will die so that your sins can be forgiven.” Only the owner could offer to God the sacrifice of his sheep, but God offered the sacrifice His own Lamb for us. The difference is that Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, made the choice to die for us so that it is human blood which takes away human sin, and it is human sacrifice that makes up for human sinfulness – not an animal sacrifice that can cover it up, but a human sacrifice that removes it completely.
And so Saint John tells us in the second reading that if anyone does sin we have an intercessor with the Father, One who is just, and that He will take away our sins. “And not our sins only,” he says, “but the sins of the whole world.” Anyone who will turn to Jesus Christ with faith and with repentance will have their sins removed. That is the guarantee that Our Lord makes. But it is not merely turning to Him out of selfishness, but out of love. It is, as Saint John points out to us, a matter of coming to know Christ. Anyone, he tells us, who says that they know Jesus Christ but continues to sin, does not follow His commandments, is a liar. Those are strong words that Saint John uses. The point he is making is that you cannot truly know Jesus Christ, Who is love, and then continue to do things which are exactly the opposite of love, which means to sin.
Now we can obviously know Christ to some degree, but if we truly know Him, that is, if we are united with Him and perfectly one with Him, we will not do anything that is going to violate Him. And sin violates Christ. The same can be said for one another. If we truly love one another, as we have been commanded to do – to follow His commandments is to love Him and to love one another – if we truly love somebody, we will not violate that person. The most horrifying thing to the heart of the lover is to do something that would violate the beloved, to sin against that person. To love someone is to desire only what is the very best for that person. One could look, for instance, at your spouse, or at children, parents, siblings. There is no doubt that we love these people. There is no doubt that we know them in the sense that Saint John is talking about. But do we love them perfectly? Do we know them completely? Is the union, even within marriage, so perfect that you no longer sin against one another, that there is no longer any selfishness, that you do nothing that would violate the dignity of the other person?
That is what Saint John is talking about. Our union with Jesus Christ is to be perfected, and when it is perfected we will no longer sin. Then we can truly say that we know Him, that we love Him, that we are united with Him. But before that can happen, we have to recognize that we are sinners, that we are weak, and we need to repent. And that repentance is precisely the recognition that Jesus Christ is the One foretold in the law and in the prophets, that He alone is the One Who has suffered and died for our sins, that He has risen from the dead so that death and sin no longer have any power over Him, and that there is no other name given to humanity in the whole world by which we can be saved.
Initially, we all know that we look to Christ out of selfish motives. There is certainly some love that is there, but it is out of selfishness – we do not want to go to hell. Thanks be to God! – we do not want to do that. That is the grace of God at work within our souls saying, “I don’t want a part of that.” And so we turn to Jesus, but selfishly. It is to say, “Save me so that I won’t be condemned!” But our love for Christ has to grow, and we have to get to the point where we will be able to say, “It’s not about me. I want to love You. It’s not merely that I don’t want to have to go to hell, but rather it’s much more positive than that. I want to be able to love You for all eternity. I want to be so perfectly united with You that I will never sin against You again and I will glorify You in Heaven forever.” That is where the difference comes. Even in our Act of Contrition, we see the exact same thing. Every time we go to Confession we see the selfish part that is in there. “I am sorry for my sins.” Why? “Because I dread the loss of Heaven and I fear the pains of hell.” Or “Because of Thy just punishments” depending on the form we might use. But it is about my fear of what is going to happen to me. Then we see the way that it is really supposed to be. “But most of all” – it’s not about my selfishness – “most of all because they offend You, Whom I should love above all things.” That is why we are to be repentant of our sins: because we have violated Someone Whom we love and Someone Who loves us perfectly.
For most of us, if not all of us, we will have to admit that there is at least still some selfishness that is in there. And so in that sense we cannot yet say that we know Jesus Christ. We know about Him and we know Him to some degree, but we cannot truly and fully know Him unless we are totally transformed into Him. We will know Jesus Christ and the love of Jesus Christ when we become the very love of Jesus Christ Himself. Then we will be completely united with Him and we will sin no longer. When there is no longer any sin then we know Christ. In the meantime, we are striving to know Him. And the way that we will come to know Him is to repent so that we recognize His love and His mercy and the forgiveness of our sins. When we recognize that our sins have been forgiven, when we truly know that our sins have been removed from our souls, then the gratitude and the joy will overtake us to the point where we will truly strive to remove all sin from our lives and love Christ the way that He loves us.
That is the way that Jesus has laid out for us. That is the grace of the Resurrection that is at work within us. He has given this to us so that we can overcome sin, so that we can come to know Him, so that we can love Him, and so that we will sin no longer. The grace of Christ in us is given so that we will know Jesus Christ and we will love as we have been loved and we will understand exactly what He said to His disciples that all of this had to happen in fulfillment of the law and the prophets, and that the repentance for sin must be preached. If we accept it and we allow that forgiveness of sin in our lives then we will become the living preachers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ by bringing that out into the world and showing to other people the love of Jesus Christ in us. And we will bring them with us to love Christ more. That is what the Christian life is supposed to be. Only those who recognize that their sins have been forgiven, only those who recognize the love of Christ at work within their souls will be able to do this. That is what the Lord desires for each and every one of us: to come to Him, to accept His mercy and His forgiveness, to be united perfectly with Him, and to know Jesus Christ and the love of Christ at work within our hearts.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.