I Thought You Should Know | We all need God to prune away our sins
5th Sunday of Easter - 2012
1 John 18-24
I think it is safe to say that today the Catholic Church in the United States, and each of us, its members, are in dire need of pruning. When grape vines go unpruned, all the plant's energies go into foliage instead of into fruit.
Since the mid 1960s, we in this country have experienced the cultural revolution, the communications revolution and the sexual revolution, all leading to a secularist culture of materialism and a culture of death.
None of us has been unscathed by the onslaught of the secularization of the public square, and in some cases the secularization of our parishioners. None of us has been unscathed by the confusion generated by dissident theologians following the Second Vatican Council.
It is not that our pontiffs have not been clear about Catholic teachings, but often we have been so blinded by the attraction of a culture of false promises that often we have not listened to and lived the traditional teachings of the Catholic Church.
Perhaps the most brilliant Church document issued during the 20th century, aside from the documents of Vatican II, was Humanae Vitae, written by Pope Paul VI in 1968. This caused a gargantuan outcry from many Catholic theologians as well as some Catholic priests. Perhaps it is an understatement that we priests did not always teach the principles of Humanae Vitae unequivocally. Perhaps we did not want to alienate the couples using artificial contraception.
The results are with us today. Our schools are underpopulated because our homes are underpopulated. Our homes are underpopulated because we have not been clear about the intrinsic evils of artificial contraception. As a result of not challenging our Catholics to abide by unchanging principles, we now have many Catholics cohabiting before marriage, and some of them never get married. They just live together.
In addition to this, many so-called Catholics have voted into office politicians who take money from Planned Parenthood in order to help them get re-elected. Perhaps the federal health insurance mandate, which will require all citizens to help pay for the killing of the unborn by funding abortion-causing drugs, is merely an expected outgrowth of our free choices in the voting booth, for which God will hold us accountable!
G. K. Chesterton once said, "What's wrong with the world? I am!"
All of us are called to change. That is what today's Gospel is all about. Jesus tells us that His Father "takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and every one that does He prunes so that it bears more fruit." This is not a matter of simply cutting out dead branches, but cutting away some living branches in order that what remains will bear more fruit.
Pruning a plant is very shocking to the plant's system, but it does stimulate more growth. Pruning away the sin and excesses in our lives is very painful but is necessary if we are to avoid the fires of hell and grow in holiness.
How do we know where we need pruning? Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Catholic Church make it very clear what God expects of us.
The first concept we need to review is the concept of sin. Revisiting the issue of sin is very politically incorrect but very biblically and spiritually healthy. Unless we allow the word of God and the teachings of the Catholic Church to speak the truth to our hearts about the reality of sin, we will all perish, and Christ's death for us will have been in vain.
In paragraph 1849, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, "Sin is an offense against reason, truth and right conscience; it is a failure to genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as 'an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law.'"
While we have the catechism out, let us say a word about the gravity of sin. "Mortal sin destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God's law; it turns man away from God, who is his ultimate end and his beatitude, by preferring an inferior good to Him. Venial sin allows charity to subsist, even though it offends and wounds it" (CCC1855).
If you are still with me, let us read paragraph 1861. "Mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom, as is love itself. It results in the loss of charity and the privation of sanctifying grace, that is, of the state of grace. If it is not redeemed by repentance and God's forgiveness, it causes exclusion from Christ's kingdom and the eternal death of hell, for our freedom has the power to make choices forever, with no turning back. However, although we can judge that an act is itself a grave offense, we must entrust judgment of persons to the justice and mercy of God" (emphasis added).
I encourage you to go to the catechism and study the conditions that make a sin mortal. The more you know the truth about sin, the more you can grow in holiness.
If we really want God to prune us, we need to study the teachings of the Catholic Church and to read the Bible every day. It tells us what God wants of us.
For example, God tells us in the Book of Hebrews 4:12, "Indeed, the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart."
If we want to take today's Gospel seriously, we all need to allow God to transform us profoundly. We need the courage to ask God to show us our sins and then to plead with Him for help in changing the desires of our hearts.
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