But whoever keeps His Word, truly has the love of God been made perfect in him.
– I John:” 2:5
The scandalous news stories this past week have provided yet another blow to Americans who truly want to be proud of their country. The scandalous conduct of employees of two government agencies that used to be pillars of propriety and honor, especially the Secret Service; the latest gruesome photos once again taken by soldiers as war trophies; and the seemingly endless stories of bad conduct by some teachers of youth, policeman, college professors, lawyers, doctors, clergy and others who belong to professions that have long been honored as being noble models of behavior. All this scandal is certainly an indicator and warning as to just how far our culture has degenerated morally and culturally. What is especially shocking is how these scandalizers in responsible positions also seem so blind to the scandalous nature of their conduct that they rather openly display their repulsive activities, apparently oblivious as to how this might compromise their own character, their families, their professions and in ceratin cases even their country.
But we really should not be surprised when such scandals occur today, given that our society, as a whole, has dramatically degraded its moral character over the past half century. Why would we not expect that the immorality portrayed and promoted in movies, on the internet, even in the popular music world would gradually infect all our institutions, the military, schools, the agencies of government, the business world, even the churches?
This has all happened before to great civilizations, the corruption of even the best once a society at large begins to accept kinds of moral behavior that it previously condemned and spurned, at least in its public life.
The Roman empire gradually died as its moral life was corrupted and its family structures consequently collapsed. The same has happened again and again in history, and it is happening in our day as well. And what is the root of this moral and civilizational decay? It is inevitably the decline of religion, religious practice, which has always been the real pillar of morality in every society. Reason alone will never succeed in establishing the moral order necessary for a society to survive and flourish; and why?
Because man is a fallen, sinful creature, and his reason, and therefore his conscience, is all too easily darkened, corrupted, when it comes to his moral behavior. People will easily rationalize their immoral lives when they lose faith and abandon their religion. And likewise, people will readily point to the widespread moral degeneracy itself in their society to ratify their false consciences – they will say that what I do is ok because “everyone” is doing it, and so it must be ok. Everyone can’t possibly be wrong.
In addition, sinful man has a debilitating tendency to believe that no one can really be expected to live up to the demanding moral code of religions like Catholicism or evangelical Protestantism, and once again this is easily proven to him by the very fact that so few people in a decaying society in fact seem capable of a higher moral life. And in a certain sense, this conviction that man can’t be expected to be highly moral did have a certain force of argument behind it until Jesus Christ and His saving power came into this world.
But all this bad news is infinitely outweighed by the Good News that we are celebrating for almost two months, the resurrection of Jesus. This good news not only provides the answer for this rationalization of sin, but it offers the solid hope, for true believers, that life, any life, every life can be changed no matter how mired in sin.. If Christ has risen from the dead, as we believe, then a divine power has entered our world that can change men’s lives, including their morality; it is the same power that raised Jesus from the dead, the power of the Holy Spirit.
Indeed, we see just how empty all this rationalizing of sinful behavior is today when we look at the Apostles themselves, before and after the resurrection of Jesus. Before the resurrection, the Apostles are seen to be at times petty and jealous, sinful men, even if not gravely sinful, and during the Passion they are cowards, with Peter actually betraying the Master with lies. Then after Easter Sunday and the resurrection appearances and the sending of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, they are transformed into fearless men of truth, who joyfully suffer for the Gospel and finally willingly become martyrs for the Truth and the salvation of souls. A new power had entered the world, and had entered their souls – the power of the Risen Lord and the Holy Spirit.
So the Apostles are witnesses to the power of the resurrection not only in the Gospel they preach, but in their own resurrected lives. And what was the cause of this transformation if not the resurrection of Christ! The divine life that had surged into the dead body of Jesus in the tomb of calvary, and given it a new glorious and immortal life, is the same divine life that took hold of the Apostles and changed them into new men. The newness of their lives bore witness itself to the truth of the Witness they gave that Jesus was raised from the dead.
What all this tells us is fairly simple. Now it is possible for all men to become new men, to change, to adopt a new moral code, to live a wholly new life of goodness and truth, just like the Apostles of Jesus and all who have followed in their footsteps to sanctity. Indeed, if we truly believe in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, then the same power that transformed His humanity, and the life of the Apostles, is available to everyone. And we Christians are called by God to live this new life as a testimony to all our neighbors that Jesus is Risen and a radically new life is possible for all.
But the Christian bears witness to Christ and His resurrection, and the possibility of genuine renewal of every human heart, precisely, as John says, by keeping God’s commandments as lovingly and obediently as Christ kept His Father’s commandments. For no one can keep the Father’s commandments like Christ, that is, with perfect and loving obedience, unless the love of God, the power of the Holy Spirit, is made perfect in him. For it is only the power of this love, which raised Jesus, that makes any man capable of such loving obedience, and thus makes anyone a powerful witness to the resurrection. If the world does not believe today in the Resurrection of Christ, if men don’t think they can truly change for the better morally and spiritually, perhaps it is because there are so few who bear this witness effectively, in lives of loving obedience to the will of God. This is what the world so desperately needs, the living testimony of faithful Christians. Jesus told us at the end of today’s Gospel, You are witnesses of these things; and John told us in the second reading how we are witnesses, by the holiness and uprightness of our lives made possible by the power of God. If the world is to change, if our society is to be saved, it must be brought to repentance and conversion as Peter preached in the first reading. And this miracle will be accomplished in no little part by our witness to the power of Christ’s resurrection, the power that has changed our lives, and can change all lives. This is our vital contribution to our world; and without it, nothing will really change all that much. Easter faith is the basis of true hope, and hope is the true engine for changing men, and thereby for changing our world.