4th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2012

“If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.” Today’s responsorial Psalm instructs us to do two things to do: we are to listen for the voice of the Lord and we are to follow His voice when we hear it. We must both hear God’s voice in our lives and put it into practice. How do we hear the voice of God in our lives?

One way in which we hear the voice of God is through our conscience. The Catechism tells us that deep within each one of us we discover a law that has been written upon our hearts by Almighty God. The conscience is that secret core of our hearts wherein we hear the voice of God. (cf. CCC 1776) Oftentimes when we are faced with a moral choice we hear two voices: in other words we experience two contrary pulls within ourselves. The Holy Spirit speaks through our conscience and calls us to avoid sin: that is the feeling that I get when I know, deep down, that I ought not do something. It is sometimes referred to as the “sting” or “pain” of conscience. At the same time I might hear another voice attempting to justify the sin that I am being tempted towards—this is the voice of the tempter, or the voice of my own fallen human nature trying to convince me that the sin is really not so bad, that it won’t hurt anyone, and so on. We need to learn to recognize the origins of those thoughts so that we can better avoid temptation. Temptation is always a lie: temptation tells me that if I sin, I will be happy. Yet sin separates me from God and apart from God I can never be happy. Sin may afford a momentary pleasure, but in the end sin always leaves me empty. Sin cannot satisfy your heart: sin is a guaranteed recipe for misery.

It is also important to remember that after a sin has been committed, the role of the Holy Spirit and the role of the tempter are reversed. Prior to committing a sin the Holy Spirit causes my conscience pain and the temptation tells me that it is “not so bad”; once a sin is committed, the Holy Spirit calls me to repentance and the tempter wants me to despair. Sometimes regret at having committed a sin can lead people to discouragement and even to despair. There isn’t a sin that you can commit that God will not forgive, provided you turn away from the sin and seek His mercy.

God has written His law upon our hearts and yet we must work to form our consciences. We must train our interior ears to hear God’s voice in the depths of our hearts and we have to make an effort to live accordingly. Our conscience must be formed: we must educate our consciences according to reason and truth. We also need to do what we know is right and do all we can to avoid evil. It is one thing to know what the right thing to do is: it is another thing to do it. In order to live an authentic Christian life, I have to prayerfully form my conscience according to the light of the Gospel and in accord with the teachings of the Church and abide by my conscience. Being an authentic Christian means knowing my faith and putting it into practice.
A large part of the Christian life is growing in virtue. Our Lord says that if we love Him we will do what He commands—and He commands us to love. The kind of love that Our Lord calls us to is a choice and it is a choice that we have to make again and again. The love that Our Lord calls us to is a choice that we make because we know that it is the right thing to do, even when that choice is difficult. Our Lord calls us to love our enemies: that is not something I do because I feel like it, I try to love my enemies because Jesus Christ, Who IS God has told me to love them. The way to grow in virtue is to exercise the virtue when I am most tempted in the opposite direction. How would you exercise bravery? Are you acting bravely right now? You might think that listening to a long homily is brave—well, it’s not. In order to do something brave, there has to be danger and would you have to choose to act bravely in the face of the danger, despite any fear that you might feel. A brave person isn’t brave because they don’t feel fear: the brave person feels fear but acts bravely regardless of their fear.

The same is true of every virtue. In order to grow in patience I have to act patiently when I don’t feel like it. If there isn’t anything challenging my patience, I am not acting patiently: I am just coasting along. We develop virtues by choosing to act virtuously when challenged. When we choose to act in a virtuous way it becomes easier to act in that good way again. If I continually choose to practice a virtue, eventually it will form into a habit and I will have grown in that virtue or developed that virtue. Sin acts in exactly the opposite way: once I have committed a sin, it is that much easier to commit the sin again. A sin that is repeated becomes a habit and a habitual sin is known as a vice. I have to be aware of the choices that I make, I have to be aware of the habits that I am forming and have formed. If I am aware of bad habits, I ought to work to break them.

Let us look to Our Lord on the Cross. He is the image of true love (cf. Col 1:15); there is no greater love, than to lay down your life for those whom you love. (Jn 15:13) Let us examine our consciences before the Cross of Our Lord; Our Lord died to save us from sin. He freely chose to lay down His life for us, so that we could have abundant life. When we look at the Crucifix we see the depth of God’s love, we also see the consequences of our sin. Let us ask Our Lord to show us what we need to change in our lives, and beg Him for the grace and the strength to be able to change it—so that we can grow in our love for Him and in our love for others. “If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.”