6th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Why does God love us? One answer to this question goes like this: God love us b/c He is Love; it is His nature to love – Love is who He is and what He does. According to His nature, God cannot not love. If we take the question to mean – what is the ultimate purpose of God's loving us? – we get a slightly different answer. The purpose behind God's loving us is to change us for the better. And to change us for the better, God's love requires our cooperation. God will not force us to love Him. He will not force us to change. He loves us without condition or pretense b/c it is His nature to love. So, you need never worry about whether or not God loves you. He does. Always. And in all circumstances. If you must worry, worry about whether or not you love God. Notice the leper. Despite his disease, despite the fact that he is required by Mosaic Law to avoid healthy people, and declare himself Unclean, he approaches Jesus, kneels, and begs, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” Jesus touches the Leper and says, “I do will it. Be made clean.” Christ loves without condition or pretense, but he will only cleanse you of sin if you ask to be made clean.
In recent years, the Church has been roiled by internal debates about the nature of mercy and sin; the morality of “second marriages” and taking communion; whether or not the individual conscience trumps the Church's moral teaching; whether or not a pastor can bless same-sex “marriages.” The different sides of these debates line up like you might expect: those who say every case is different so we cannot impose universal rules and those who say that there are rock-bottom truths that always apply to all cases. We hear that God loves us unconditionally, therefore, all are welcome! We hear that God hates sin, therefore, sinners must not be welcomed as sinners. Bishop Bob says we must embrace the sinner. While Bishop Jim says the sinner must be admonished. Pastors and lay folks get in on the action – documents are quoted; popes are cited; councils invoked; and theologians and Celebrity Catholics rant in the media about the respective rigidity or moral laxity of the other side. Either the Church must always keep up with the times, or the Church must never change. Notice the leper. His faith in Christ pushes him to ask for healing. He asks. And Christ heals him. God loves us in order to change us. To make us holy.
Some would have us believe that God's unconditional love affirms the OK-ness of our sin; that is, they say, since God always loves us (true), despite our sin (true), then our sin must be OK. False. My sin is a sign, is evidence that I do not love God. He still loves me, true, but I do not love Him. If I am to be healed, I must ask to be healed. If my sins are to be forgiven, I must ask to be forgiven. And in order to ask to be forgiven I must first actually believe that my sins are indeed sins! But if God loves me despite my sins, why bother with asking for forgiveness? Because my sins tell God that I do not love Him, and He will not force His love upon me. Without my cooperation, God's love cannot help me to grow in holiness; without my cooperation, God's graces go unused. And when my time for judgment comes, God will honor my choice not to love Him and allow me to live apart from Him for all eternity. The love that God has for of us does not – in any way – diminish or negate the damage we do to ourselves when we sin, when we refuse to repent of that sin and ask for His mercy. Notice the leper, begging, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” And Christ responding, “I do will it. Be made clean.” Ask, receive. No asking, no receiving.
So, the bottom-line is this: if all you want out of your life as a follower of Christ is to be loved by God. . .well, you got it. You're done. In fact, you were done the moment you were conceived. God loved you in your mother's womb; He loves you now, and He will always love you. He will even love you as you choose to spend eternity separated from Him. If, however, you want your life as a follower of Christ to be a love affair between you and God, a mutual, life-giving, grace-filled affair, then you will name your sin what it is and ask to be healed. And God will heal you b/c He loves you. What you – we – cannot do is ask God to love our sin, to pretend that our disobedience is not disobedience. Doing that would make God – who always loves us – an accomplice in our damnation. That He cannot/will not do. Lent is fast-approaching. We'll be charged with spending some time and energy examining our relationship with God in Christ Jesus. Take some of that time and energy to explore the depth and breadth of your love for God. Ask yourself: do I just presume that my sins are forgiven b/c God loves me? Or, have I actually asked Him to heal me? The difference it makes is eternal.
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