While reading the passage from 3 John I wondered what that could mean for us today. How do we, the church of modern America, love so faithfully that it is testified to others? Who are our strangers that have set out for the sake of the name? Who, today, are the pagans from whom they accept nothing? I think there are many answers to these questions. Some of these answers could vary depending on the mission of a particular parish and the demographics it serves. Some answers could change based on the religious climate in a particular region. I want to look at these questions from the perspective of serving those in the midst of conversion.
First, to love faithfully we need to not assume where someone is in their struggle against our common enemy — sin. Sometimes I forget to see our common struggle against sin as binding and instead create division by taking on the ‘job’ of identifying sin in others’ lives. Now, don’t get me wrong, holding our brothers and sisters accountable, and calling sin what it is are good things when it is done correctly. But when it is done by assuming someone’s allegiance to that particular sin or their knowledge of it, that is divisive and the work of the Accuser. Christ has shown us a model of calling people to something better than their sin, while the model of the devil is evident in his title “The Accuser.”
It is that distinction that changes how we interact with strangers. We need to meet our strangers and hear their stories. We need to support them with our prayers and our encouragement. We need to be ready to share our stories. We, as Catholics, are great at teaching people why they should set out for the sake of the Name, but could do much better at sharing why that journey has been worth it in our own lives. It is so easy to meet someone returning to the church and just send them to RCIA without expressing excitement, joy, and pledging our support. This is just a piece of what Pope Francis call accompaniment.
As we accompany we need to also remember what it is like to be there. Sometimes I forget the things I had to turn from in order to turn back to the Lord. I forget the friendships and relationships that fizzled, became strained, or broke because they weren’t helping me resist sin, but were instead drawing me into it. Sometimes I forget that conversion can be a lonely road to walk. For many people St. John could have written it, “For they have set out for the sake of the Name [all by themselves]”. Many have set out for the sake of the name alone, let’s make sure they don’t finish that journey alone, or worse still give up on it because they are alone.
Lord, help us to faithfully love our brothers and sisters, especially the strangers among us. Help us to accompany them as they respond to your call in their lives. Move us to walk with them. Let us do all of this in memory of our own conversion. Amen.