March 14, 2021
“…He who does not believe is condemned already.” (John 3:18) These words of Jesus are shocking in our society of so many different beliefs. How can we understand them?
- Why is faith so important? Why is belief in Jesus so important? Because it leads us to the light to do what is good.
- Whether a person has faith or rejects this belief in Jesus, this is their judgement which is not imposed on them by God but by a person’s personal decision.
- A sign or evidence by God to help us believe is hearing the witnesses of those who saw, heard and witnessed Jesus’s life on earth.
- Another sign is the interior graces or “helps” from the Holy Spirit.
- To help us believe, we also have our free response to decide for or against what is true and good.
- When Jesus says those, who reject this belief are condemned, He is talking about those who hate the light.
- Those who don’t know the Lord through no fault of their own, but try to do good as best as they know it, can achieve salvation.
“He who does not believe in the Son of God, is condemned already. Because he did not believe in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” Why is belief in Jesus, the Son of God, so important? Jesus says this faith comes from this inner decision, for the light and truth or against the light and the truth, seeking what is good and true or rejecting what is good and true.
In this intense battle that we’re in today, this is so important, as St. John says, “This is the victory that overcomes the world, our faith.” Having faith or not having faith often comes from the many decisions that we have made about whether we respond to what is good and true, or flee from it, to choose what is not. It’s helpful to remember three core elements in faith, the signs and evidence that God gives, interior helps that He gives (His Grace), and very importantly, our free response.
Faith is what makes it possible for us to overcome the world, a living faith which is acting through love, the core decision of our heart and soul, to seek what is good and true. “God sent His Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.”
I’m always aware, as I prepare for a homily, how poor my words are in comparison to all that the Lord wants to share. And so I think it’s very important to invoke the Holy Spirit. I’d like to do this every time but at least today, before the homily, so that beyond the poverty of what I say, and what I understand, the Holy Spirit can share with you what He Himself wants to share. I’d like to begin with a moment of silence, and then I will invoke the Holy Spirit and also invoke the intercession of our Blessed Mother, because she is the greatest example of someone who was open to the Word of God. If you want, you can close your eyes for a moment. Holy Spirit come, come by the powerful intercession of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, your well, beloved spouse, Amen. “He who does not believe in the Son of God, is condemned already. Because he did not believe in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” These words of Jesus that we heard in the Gospel today are shocking, in our culture. Because we live in a world with there’s many, very many beliefs throughout our world, and so to kind of handle all that, it’s often said, it doesn’t matter what a person believes, just as long as they’re a good person. But oftentimes belief seems to be so much a function of where you grew up in and who, what your family was. Our culture speaks of respect and tolerance, and these words of Jesus seem very intolerant. “He who does not believe in the Son of God is condemned already,” it says. Why is this faith, so important? Why is belief in Jesus, the Son of God, so important? In this gospel, the words of Jesus in His gospel are very, very important for understanding faith. Because Jesus goes on to say, He goes on to explain, “this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world. And men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” So many choose darkness instead of light because they don’t want the light, because their deeds, He says, are evil. “For everyone who does evil, hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds be exposed. But he who does what is true, comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God.” So, Jesus is talking about the core attitude and each person, do they go to the light? Do they love the light? Or do they reject the light and hate the light? And He says this faith depends, it comes from this inner decision, this core decision, for the light and truth or against the light and the truth, seeking what is good and true or rejecting what is good and true. So we see how important Jesus says faith is. He says, and Jesus, Jesus is the one who knows. He says, depending on whether a person has faith or rejects this belief in Him, is their judgment. And He is showing that the judgment is not something that He is imposing but it’s a decision that each person is making. So to understand faith, I think it’s helpful to remember three core elements in faith. First of all, there’s the signs and evidence that God gives to help us believe. So for instance, in a gospel we see people, hearing Jesus and seeing Jesus, hearing what He says, seeing Him, seeing how He acts seeing His expressions, His body language, seeing the good things He’s doing like helping the poor and converting sinners, seeing Him cast out demons, healing, working miracles. Many in the Gospel witness that or, others heard someone else talk about it, heard someone else giving a witness. So there’s all these exterior signs and evidence that God gives. And for us, for instance, we didn’t see Jesus do that, but we’ve also heard witnesses, talk about it. But that’s not enough. Even in the Gospel, even those who see all that and witness all that, that’s not enough. Some of them see all that and they still reject belief, so that those signs and evidence aren’t enough. The second thing is the interior helps, the interior graces that the Lord gives. The Catechism says, “The interior speaks of the interior helps of the Holy Spirit, who moves the heart, and converts it to God, who opens the eyes of the mind to accept and believe. We may not be conscious of this interior work of the Holy Spirit, but even the greatest signs and evidence are not enough. We need this help, this grace of the Holy Spirit, who’s joining us, who’s inviting us who’s helping us to believe. So there’s the exterior signs of witnesses, and then there’s the interior, attraction or help of the Holy Spirit. But even that’s not enough, there’s something else that’s needed. Because God gives that help to everyone. How come some still don’t believe? Because there’s a third element that’s also necessary, and that is our free response. Not just the signs and evidence that God gives, and not just His grace, but also your free response. God respects our freedom. And each one of us has to make the decision for or against what is true and good. And we know we’ve seen the Gospel, for instance, that is not a function of just learning, or intelligence. Some of those who had the most learning and studies of scripture were the scribes were some of the greatest obstacles to Jesus, often not all of them, but many of them. And some of those who seem with special intelligence, some of those are the ones who actually had the most difficulty accepting Jesus. And sometimes it’s just simple people without much learning, who are the ones who respond with a deep faith. So faith is not just a function of, of learning or intelligence. Some people are given very little light. But that little light that they’re given, they go to it. And some people have received much light, but reject that light. Father Edward O’Conner, I want to read to you what he says on this matter, he says, “it has often said that fate is a free act. That is true, but it can be misunderstood. It doesn’t mean that a person normally deliberates about whether to believe or not, and finally makes up their mind. Most people find faith within themselves, or don’t find it. The decision has taken place in their subconscious, and has resulted from many little decisions to do right or wrong, to love the good or to abandon it. When they encounter the Church or the Word of God, they simply believe or do not believe, without knowing how or why. They have indeed made a free decision. But this decision took place in many other areas, long before it appeared as faith or unbelief. Similarly, falling away from the faith is seldom due to the reasons or problems that we consciously declare. Often it is the result of living in discord with the faith that we profess.” That’s from his book on the Catholic vision. So having faith or not having faith often comes from these many decisions that we have made about whether we respond to what is good and true, or flee from it, to choose what is not. So those three elements, the signs and evidence that God gives, an interior helps that He gives, but also our free response. So this helps us also to clarify something that might be a misunderstanding in what Jesus is saying. When Jesus says those who reject this belief are condemned, He’s talking about those who hate the light. But what about those who have never heard about Jesus who don’t believe in him, because they’ve never heard about Him. Because maybe they were brought up, maybe where they were brought up in a place which was had other religions, like maybe a Muslim or Hindu, or maybe in a communist regime, or in a very secular atmosphere, so they didn’t know Him. Or what about those who heard about Jesus, but in a very distorted way. Maybe their experiences of Christians or Catholics were very bad experiences, and sometimes even scandalous experiences, like sadly, there’s so many examples today, even in our Catholic Church. And so they may not be rejecting the true Jesus and the true Church, but they’re rejecting the false image, the distorted image that they have received. Or other people may be very traumatized by evil, and by suffering, which seems to contradict the belief that God is good and loving. So all those are different cases. The Catechism says, “Those who through no fault of their own, did not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, those who don’t know Him, through no fault of their own, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart and moved by grace, so that God’s grace is still acting in them, try and their actions to do His will, as they know it, through the dictates of their conscience, these too may achieve eternal salvation.” So those who don’t know the Lord through no fault of their own, but try to do good as best they know it, can achieve salvation. And St. John says, “the true light which enlightens every man was coming into the world,” that is, Jesus is the Word of God. He is the true light which enlightens every man, not just those who know Him, consciously, or know about Him, but every man because He is the light, there is no other true light except Jesus, Jesus, the Son of God. And so all those who even without knowing about Him explicitly and consciously respond to the light that they have received, are responding even if they don’t know what they’re responding to Jesus. St. Thomas Aquinas speaks of this implicit faith. It’s not explicit, they don’t explicitly know Jesus. But it is truly the light of God that they’re responding to. So we can’t judge others, especially in these extreme times. God is merciful. His great revelation of mercy is for these times, He comes to save, because He knows the terrible situation that so many are facing, So much darkness, so much manipulation, and the Church today, which is so weakened, and disfigured, and betrayed, that it’s very difficult for many to recognize it. So God has extremes of mercy for our time. And at the same time, He respects our freewill. So this Gospel is helping us to understand why faith in Jesus is so important. This is, of course, a living faith, the faith which is acting through love, which is the core decision of our heart and soul, to seek what is good and true. So that when God gives us His light, we accept the light, we move towards the light. And in this intense battle that we’re in today, this is so important, as St. John says, “This is the victory that overcomes the world, our faith.” Faith is what makes it possible for us to overcome the world. It’s so essential today. So to conclude with the words of the Gospel, the words of Jesus today. “God sent His Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” We had the passage about Abraham a couple of weeks ago, “God gives His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him.” So Jesus comes to save, but He needs us to accept Him, to trust Him, so that we can receive the grace that He comes to give. “That whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” So this is happening right now, as we celebrate this Holy Sacrifice of the Mass on this little hillside. The Father is in this Mass, sending His Son, sending the light of His Word. The Holy Spirit is acting within us right now, drawing us to the light of God. And so with our Blessed Mother, let us respond to this light, to this attraction, believing Jesus and welcoming His light. Amen.