Bottom line: God's unconditional love - made evident in Jesus - does not mean mushy indulgence. To the contrary, he expects us to turn away from sin and allow him to cleanse us: such is the affection of Christ Jesus.
Many of you have read The Screwtape Letters. C. S. Lewis wrote them from the point of view of an experienced demon named Screwtape who advises his nephew on how to bring a young man to ruin by a series of temptations. It seems likes the tempters have all the advantages because they offer things humans want: sex without commitment, easy money, superiority over others, escape from duties, payback, and other things - all bald lies, but very appealing. The devil appears to have the winning side, but at a certain point, Screwtape admits to his nephew that their enemy (God) is not be underestimated. Almost in exasperation, Screwtape says:
"We must never forget what is the most repellent and inexplicable trait in our enemy; He really loves the hairless bipeds."
When you come right down to it, that is what God ultimately offers us. He really loves us confused, prideful creatures - us "hairless bipeds," as C. S. Lewis expresses it. God's love is amazing when you think about it. Yet, in today's second reading, St. Paul speaks plainly about the "affection of Christ Jesus." Now, there is a powerful phrase: the affection of Christ Jesus.
I think you know what affection means. God has arranged things in such a way that almost every person has some experience of strong affection: a young man so deeply in love with a girl that he thinks about her day and night; a parent who would sacrifice anything for their child; even the feeling we have toward our pets. The last example might seem amusing, but in relation to God, the proportion is something like that of an owner to their pet - except that the gap is unspeakably greater. But the affection is real. St. Paul tells us about the affection of Christ Jesus.
We sometimes talk about God's unconditional love. What that phrase means is that by his very nature God loves us. And his nature cannot change. His love is unconditional because, of all beings, he is without conditions.* However, unconditional love does not mean that he is content to leave us as we are - or let us do anything we please, like some overindulgent grandparent. It would be a pretty meager love if God did not expect something of us. St. Paul tells us that God wants us to be "pure and blameless." Are you pure and without blame? I know I am not. But God wants you and me to become pure and blameless.
In the Gospel, St. John proclaims a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin. We cannot experience the love of God, the affection of Jesus Christ, unless we recognize our sins. To come into God's presence requires cleansing. Allow me to use a comparison, which perhaps is overly simple. I have a dog for whom I feel a great affection. He does almost everything I ask him and requires very little persuasion. There is, however, one thing which he hates and fears: a bath. If he realizes I am leading him to a bucket of soapy water and a hose, he digs in his paws and becomes immovable. I pet him, I speak to him nicely, I offer him a treat - all to no avail. Finally, I have to drag him to the dreaded water. Once I begin scrubbing, he seems to resign himself to the ordeal. And when the bath is over, he runs and shakes himself for pure joy. So far he has never run away.
You and I might have similar feelings toward the cleansing God wishes to give us in the Sacrament of Reconciliation - which is a kind second baptism. How difficult to acknowledge our sin before God and another human being! We might think, "I am clean enough." But God does not see it that way. He wants us to be pure and blameless.
Just to sum up: God's unconditional love - made evident in Jesus - does not mean indulgence. He is not a dottering grandfather, who just likes to "watch the kids have a good time." No, he is a loving Father with high expectations for his children - that we become pure and blameless. He invites us today to turn away from sin and allow him to cleanse us. Such is the affection of Christ Jesus.
*The sun drastically conditions the earth while the earth only minutely conditions the sun. The ration is greater than 99:1. In the case of God to the created universe the ration is 100:0. He conditions us 100%; we condition him 0%. We have taken our being from Him; we can add nothing back. Yet to us and the angels, God has placed something else in the equation - genuine free will.
From Archives (Homily for Second Sunday of Advent, Year C):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
St. Mary of the Valley Album
(November of 2009)
Pictures from Peru
(Aaron Howard with girls at Puno orphanage, Daughters of Charity in background)
Bulletin (New Crucifix, 35th Anniversary, Guadalupe Procession, Good News on Utilities Bill, Visit to Peru)
Crucifix for Tice Hall
Review of Dawn Eden's The Thrill of the Chaste
Amid the rest of the bloodshed and kidnappings, another priest kidnapped in Baghdad
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Parish Picture Album
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru
(new, professional website) mission trip 2016 brochure