Readers may wonder why, in the middle of the Christmas season, I would choose to start a new series on the Lectionary for Reconciliation.
Well, a few reasons.
I do see that reconciliation is aligned closely with the thrust of evangelization (or re-evangelization) of inactive believers. I also acknowledge that reconciliation is a Christian task both in season and out. By that I mean that we are always confronted with our own failings (should we dare to look) and that perhaps the reunion of friends and family presents itself with an opportunity to reform ourselves and renew relationships that have been bumped or broken.
Last, but not least, today’s Lectionary passage for the fifth day of Christmas is the same as number 169 in the Rite of Penance.
Saint John waxes poetic on love, and so it’s no wonder that portions of his first letter find their way into the readings for Christmas and Easter seasons. Likewise Baptism and Weddings. Four are found in the Rite of Penance (RP 168-171). All four appear in the Christmas Lectionary (yesterday’s first, plus split between 4-5 January, and split between the Wednesday and Thursday after Epiphany.
Let’s get to the text:
The way we may be sure that we know Jesus
is to keep his commandments.
Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not keep his commandments
is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
But whoever keeps his word,
the love of God is truly perfected in him.
This is the way we may know that we are in union with him:
whoever claims to abide in him ought to walk just as he walked.
Let’s pause here. “Keep” is repeated three times here, twice in connection with the commandments of Jesus. The third refers to “word.” The author seems aware of the problem of superficiality. I know Jesus. I am a good Catholic. I am an orthodox Catholic. I am a practicing Catholic. These are all good things, but the verb “keep” implies something literally deeper than the simple outward professions of identity.
I envision “keep” as something of our very depths. If we keep something, we don’t just visit it on Sundays. Or when convenience or tragedy strikes. It is something always with us. Keeping something leads to the path of perfection. And more, keeping the word implies strongly we are going to be transformed by that word into a part of a union with Jesus. We will “walk just as he walked.” We will do just as he did.
Beloved, I am writing no new commandment to you
but an old commandment that you had from the beginning.
The old commandment is the word that you have heard.
And yet I do write a new commandment to you,
which holds true in him and among you,
for the darkness is passing away,
and the true light is already shining.
Whoever says he is in the light,
yet hates his brother, is still in the darkness.
Whoever loves his brother remains in the light,
and there is nothing in him to cause a fall.
Whoever hates his brother is in darkness;
he walks in darkness
and does not know where he is going
because the darkness has blinded his eyes.
John seems to have a second thought there. On one hand, he embraces the continuity of tradition. But on the other, he acknowledges that Jesus presents something entirely new to us. That newness? Eternal life in Christ.
The impact of this passage on reconciliation should be obvious. We Catholics have long treated sin and contrition as a matter between God and the penitent. But we have to acknowledge that sin impacts those around us. We are not just injuring the Lord–in fact, God is probably the one least affected by sin. Sin impacts people around us. Serious sin impacts them seriously.
We are urged to love. Simply, to love others. In so loving, we take a stand with Jesus and we stand with him, in the light.
Sacramental reconciliation should bring the believer into the light, and into the loving of others whether or not this reading is used for inspiration. And if a penitent or a community has difficulty with this notion, then perhaps this reading is an opportune point of reflection. We’re not just visiting a confessor to gain personal relief. We go to draw something deep into us, to keep it. To keep the word. And we go forth resolve to give up hate, to embrace those who have hurt us, and to make a stand to walk in the light, to walk with the Lord Jesus.