‘What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.’ 1John 3:2-3
|Francesco Pesellino - The Virtues|
Last week I talked about the vices of gossiping and talking uncharitably about others as bad habits we all have, regrettably, and I also said that these vices are most unbecoming to Christians. I affirmed that through God’s help and the practice of virtues we will eventually succeed in putting away these bad practices from the way we live the Christian life (Cf. Homily for Easter 2). Also, recently, if you remember, I affirmed that with regards to the virtue of faith, like any other virtue or good habit, we are all “works in progress” (Cf. Homily for Easter Day).
Today our reading from the First Letter of St John gives us another scriptural insight about this way of being a Christian as something constantly requiring both the input of grace and our commitment in order to better ourselves. The Apostle John speaks to us of the great joy and of the new dignity bestowed upon us as faithful when he says, ‘See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are’ (1John 3:1). We truly are the children of God because through Baptism we become part of Jesus – part of the only-begotten Son of the Father who has become one of us, has offered himself up, and has risen, so that we may share his divine life. Therefore, if we abide in Jesus, if we make our home in him, we will be also found by the Father in him – as a great Eucharistic hymn affirms,
‘Look, Father, look on his anointed face,and only look on us as found in him’.
Yet, within this great affirmation of joy and new dignity, we also read a stern command from John; something that we may easily gloss over, but that is an important key in understanding how to live the Christian life. John says, ‘And all who have hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.’
What does this instruction mean? It seems a little contradictory. If we are in Christ and those who abide in him have no sin, as John affirms in verse 6, how can we need to purify ourselves? Then again, last week in the same letter we have read, ‘If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us’ (1John 1:8), so can we reconcile these two things?
We can only do so if we consider our own nature with frankness. Yes, we are in Jesus Christ – or at least we often claim that we are – and by being in him we are children of God; but if we take a good look at ourselves, we soon realise that we do not always behave like Jesus does, we do not always do what he does, and we do not always love like he does. Oftentimes, we are more likely to be at the mercy of our own bad habits and inclinations rather than being at the mercy of God. We are inclined to do what suits us best, or as we examined last week, we are inclined to act uncharitably with regards to other people and then claim unconvincingly that we are Christians. Therefore, the instruction to purify ourselves according to the pattern of Jesus is an instruction to put away all those bad habits that prevent us from abiding stably in him; it is an instruction to work against those vices that linger on once the sin has been washed away.
So, how do we purify ourselves from evil habits such as anger, laziness, or pride? How do we put away these vices that inevitably cause us to sin despite our best efforts and despite our faith? The solution is twofold. First, we need to rely on grace and prayer as the source of our purification – remember here last week’s collect that asked God ‘grant us to put away the leaven of malice and wickedness’ as if to say “You, God, grant us this, because we can’t do it without you”. Secondly, we must practice the virtues, those good habits, which are naturally in opposition to vices and can counteract our inclinations to sin according to them. By grounding and rooting ourselves in virtues such as justice, patience, courage, humility, and above all, charity, hope, and faith, we will gradually turf out vices, leaving no place for them to flourish.
‘What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.’
We are all works in progress. Purifying ourselves means progressing, continuing, the work begun in us by God at Baptism in a way that makes us flourish as believers and as human beings who live according to the perfect pattern traced by Jesus Christ. But because we do this through grace and prayer, in a sense, it does not matter that much how far we go down this road of purification, down the path of virtues, just as long as we keep travelling along it at all times, thus making our home in Jesus more beautiful and comfortable with each passing day, until the blessed time ‘when he is revealed, and we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.’