Today’s first reading (1 Jn 2:29-3:6) contrasts those who know God and those who do not know God, being distinguished from each other based on their behavior. As we conclude the first chapter of The Imitation of Christ (1,1,4), we are reminded that the entire chapter has the same thrust as this excerpt from John’s first epistle, namely: really knowing the Lord should preclude sinful behavior in our lives. Yet sin abounds, even from those of us who claim to know Jesus well.
Kempis was keenly aware of the human race’s fallen nature and so was John. Even the most casual observer of the culture at any time and in any place would have to be willfully ignorant or utterly debased not to recognize the rampant immorality that abounds among Christians and non-Christians alike. What both of these men are imploring us to do is to aim for something higher. Jesus tells us to “be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48). And Christians have the gift of grace to help us to reach that goal, making it possible, but not necessarily easy, to attain.
It is easy to say we believe in God, but if we really know Him and what He desires of us, than we can give no quarter to sinful behavior in our lives or in our society. Rooting this out in ourselves is a daily struggle — even the greatest saints will admit to that. But what about in society as a whole? What possibly can we do?
For starters, we are reminded of the proverb Jesus relates: “Physician, cure yourself” (Lk 4:23) which, like “Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye?” (Mt 7:3), admonishes us to get our own house in order before reproving others. So, there can be no more powerful testimony than the way we ourselves live and the manner in which we express ourselves. But we don’t wait for personal perfection (which, for many of us, will come in the next life) to call out injustice and immorality in the broader society. By our personal example and by knowing our Bible and Church teaching, we can confidently share the Good News with everyone, that they too may be invited to partake of the “hidden manna,” as Kempis says (1,1,2).
St. Jerome’s most famous quote is: “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ” (Commentary on Isaiah [Nn. 1.2: CCL 73, 1-3]). We have a duty to the Lord not to be ignorant of Him. We also have a duty to spread the Word (see Mt 28:19-20). Let us not be found lacking on either count.