Sunday Sermon for May 3, 2015, the Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year B

Readings: Acts 9:26-31; 1 Jn 3:18-24; Jn 15:1-8
In the second reading St. John says that if our hearts do not condemn us, then we have confidence in God and we will receive from Him whatever we ask. We live in a relativistic society where very little is seen as objective truth. Consequently, people have rationalized their way around nearly every moral teaching of the Church. In fact, they have deadened their consciences to the point where they would think that what St. John says above would refer to them because their hearts are not seeming to condemn them for their actions.

However, what is quoted above is only the first part of St. John’s statement. I intentionally cut it off because there are so many who would do the same thing in order to make Scripture say what they want it to say. St. John finishes the sentence by saying that we have confidence in God and will receive what we ask because we keep His commandments and do what pleases Him. I think that if we asked most people who are would claim that their hearts are not condemning them for their actions, they would admit that they know they are acting contrary to the teachings of the Church.

It may well be that these people, in order to justify their actions, have tried to find a way to reject the Church’s teaching by saying that the Church is living in the middle ages, or by saying that a bunch of old, celibate men in Rome don’t understand us or, my favorite, the Church has to say those things, but we really don’t have to believe them. The idea that the Church thinks that something has to be said only because it is what has always been said is ridiculous. It is true that the Church restates today what it has stated in the past, but this is because it is the truth. It is not because it would look hypocritical if she said something different, even though the different thing is what she really thinks today.

These kinds of ideas are prevalent today, but they do not hold water. Not only do people know they are being disobedient to the teachings of the Church, but their hearts do actually condemn them. Natural law is written in their hearts and they know deep down that they are violating God, others and themselves when they act in a way contrary to God’s law. It is instructive to look at the comment in the first reading today where we are told that the early Church was at peace and was being built up because they were walking in the fear of the Lord.

Today we do not find many people who are at peace. When we look around our society, we have lost the peace and the order that we have just two generations ago. Today there is no fear of the Lord in either sense of the phrase. The wrong sense of this is being afraid of God; this is servile fear. The proper sense is loving God so much that we would fear to offend Him; this is filial fear. People today have rejected the idea that there is a God so, therefore, we have nothing to fear. Even among those who profess faith in God there are some who are trying to tell us that everyone goes to Heaven. This is really convenient because I do not have to love God or strive to do His will; in fact, I can do anything I want and I am still going to Heaven.

This sounds really nice, but it is not true. But God does not want us to be quaking in fear of His punishments; He wants to us to love Him and to receive His love. The commandment of Jesus is to love God and to love neighbor. St. John tells us in the second reading that those who keep His command remain in Him and He remains in them. This dovetails perfectly with the Gospel reading today in which our Lord tells us to remain in Him so that we can bear fruit. We are unable to be fruitful apart from Him, so the more perfectly we are united to Him, the greater the fruit we can bear.

This is why Jesus says that His Father will prune the branches that bear fruit. In order to make the soul more perfectly conformed to Christ, God will remove anything that is not of Himself. This scares some people, but we have to recall that God replaces everything He removes with something infinitely greater. As His love grows in us, our hearts will be at peace, we will have confidence in God, and we will receive what we ask, because we will be keeping His commandments and doing what pleases Him.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit