When Saul arrived in Jerusalem he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple. Then Barnabas took charge of him and brought him to the apostles, and he reported to them how he had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus. He moved about freely with them in Jerusalem, and spoke out boldly in the name of the Lord. He also spoke and debated with the Hellenists, but they tried to kill him. And when the brothers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him on this way to Tarsus.
The church throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria was at peace. It was being built up and walked in the fear of the Lord, and with the consolation of the Holy Spirit it grew in numbers.(P) The word of the Lord.
I will fulfill my vows before those who fear the Lord. The lowly shall eat their fill; they who seek the Lord shall praise Him: "May your hearts live forever!" (R)
All the ends of the Earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; all the families of the nations shall bow down before Him. (R)
To Him alone shall bow down all who sleep in the Earth; before Him shall bend all who go down into the dust. (R)
And to Him my soul shall live; my descendants shall serve Him. Let the coming generation be told of the Lord that they may proclaim to a people yet to be born, the justice He has shown. (R)
Children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth. Now this is how we shall know that we belong to the truth and reassure our hearts before Him in whatever our hearts condemn, for God is greater than our hearts and knows everything.
Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence in God and receive from Him whatever we ask, because we keep His commandments and do what pleases Him. And His commandment is this: we should believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another just as he commanded us. Those who keep His commandments remain in Him, and He in them, and the way we know that He remains in us is from the Spirit He gave us.(P) The word of the Lord.
Jesus said to his disciples: "I am the true vine and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and every one that does He prunes so that it bears more fruit. You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you. Remain in me, as I remain In you. Just as a branch cannot to bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither; people will gather them and throw them into a fire and they will be burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples."(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
Saint Teresa of Calcutta, commonly known as Mother Teresa, has told many wonderful and inspiring stories: most of these were derived from her day to day encounters with the poor. One such story has stuck with me since I first read it.
She says, "One night a man came to our house and told me, "There is a family with eight children. They have not eaten for days." I took some food and went. When I finally came to the family, I saw the faces of those little children disfigured by hunger. There was no sorrow or sadness in their faces, just the deep pain of hunger. I gave the food, mostly rice, to the mother. She divided it in two, and went out, carrying half the food with her.
When she came back, I asked her, "Where did you go?" She gave me this simple answer, "I went to my neighbour's house, Mother. They too are hungry." Speaking of the incident, Teresa says, "I was not surprised that the mother shared the food with her neighbours because most poor people are generous. But I was surprised that she knew her neighbours were hungry. As a rule, when we are suffering, we are so focused on ourselves that we have no time for others."
This is the story of love in action. Today's second reading from the first letter of John addresses this very topic, 1 John (3:18-24). In our hearts, even in people who have strong faith and belief in God, doubts are bound to arise. Sometimes, others point out the gaps between what we believe and how we live and, say further that we are acting in ways that are unchristian. Sometimes, we may even wonder to ourselves if we are really Christians. I have known many people who feel so bad and guilty of their sins. They struggle with feeling like they are not good enough.
For example, one said to me, "I am such a bad Christian, I can't even keep a commitment to read the Bible every day. Another said, "I am not a good enough Christian for God to use. I am a terrible sinner." Some people live with a misunderstanding that their sins are far greater for God to want to forgive them. Some others have fallen so many times by the same sin that they feel God has given up on them. They feel that since they are never good enough in God's sight, God is withholding His love and grace for them. Some, in spite of knowing intellectually and believing strongly their position in Christ Jesus and God's love for them, and that they are forgiven, they feel the weight of shame, condemnation and judgment. In other words, they often feel, they are "good-for-nothing" and suffer from a deep sense of inferiority and worthlessness.
The Apostle Paul has wonderful words of hope and comfort for such people - those with excessive feelings of guilt. He points out that the punishment for our sins is death but Jesus Christ has already paid for our sins, Romans (6:23). God no longer condemns us because God loved us so much that He gave us His Son Jesus Christ to die for our sins, John (3:16); 1 John (4:9).
In other words, Jesus quite literally has already paid for all our sins and therefore, we do not have to condemn ourselves again nor do we have to pay it again with our life. However, this is entirely different to what self-righteous persons feel about themselves or those who feel that they have no sin at all and those who feel the need of confessing their sins again and again even though they have already confessed them and been forgiven.
If you are someone who is struggling with self-condemnation or if you see yourself as not a good Christian because of your sin, just like St Paul, the words of the Apostle John from today's second reading can also comfort your troubled heart. According to John, sin does not and cannot determine the genuineness of our Christian faith but acts of love. He calls on us, therefore, to "love not in word or speech but in deed and truth. Now this is how we shall know that we belong to the truth and reassure our hearts before him in whatever out hearts condemn, for God is greater than our hearts and knows everything", 1 John (3:18-20).
In other words, if we show the love of Jesus to others and, if our behaviour and conduct have been changed and our life is becoming more like Jesus, then we can know that we are of the truth and our claim to be a Christian is genuine. Moreover, he says that the feeling of love for fellow human beings reassures our hearts that we are in the presence of God. Sometimes our hearts may condemn us but God is greater than our hearts and He knows everything about us. That is to say, God not only knows our sins but also our love, remorse and repentance for our sin, and efforts to change our life. Hence, when we confess our sins, we are given full forgiveness of our sins.
John further says, "If our hearts do not condemn us", that is, when we have a clear conscience and when "we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in God's sight", we can have great confidence in Him and can expect all our prayers to be heard and answered. Lastly, the apostle reminds us of the most important commandment of God. That is, we must believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, i.e., believing in the nature and character of Jesus Christ, and we must love one another just as Jesus has commanded us, i.e., we must love one another with the same selfless, sacrificial, forgiving love with which Jesus Christ loves us.(P) Amen.
God Bless You!