“Living the Double Commandment to be Formed More Perfectly into the Image of Christ”

Homily, 5th Sunday of Easter, Year “B”
Sunday, April 28, 2024; St. Mary’s Cathedral
Mass for Participants in the Respect Life Essay Contest


The widely-read twentieth century British author CS Lewis was one of the most celebrated of his field not only during his lifetime but even up to today.  The 1993 film “Shadowlands” movingly tells the story of his life.  From time to time throughout the film it depicts the scene of him lecturing his students and speaking of “God’s chisel.”  By this he meant the suffering that God allows us to endure in this life, so that it may be the means by which He sculpts us into the best version of ourselves.  Every blow of the chisel is painful, but it moves one closer to being more perfectly conformed to the image of God’s Son. 

The film also poignantly portrays the friendship he developed with the American poet and novelist Helen Joy Davidman, whom he married civilly merely as an arrangement whereby she could retain her residence in Great Britain and not have to return to the United States.  They continued to live as single people until she was diagnosed with bone cancer.  The friendship deepened and they decided to marry “for real,” that is, in the Church.  Her death was imminent, but their time together lasted longer than they had anticipated: the cancer went into remission, only, however, to return a few years later.

Their common life as husband and wife lasted four years, and in that time Lewis discovered the joys and sacrifices of married life.  And then came the revelation: after she died Lewis then experienced in a deeply personal way what he had lectured his students about theoretically his whole life.  Now it is no longer theory; now he knows to the depths of his being the profound impact of God’s chisel.

The Double Commandment

This image of God’s chisel is really another way of expressing one meaning of what our Lord teaches us in today’s Gospel about the pruning of the vine.  Whether it’s feeling the impact of the chisel or the cutting away of the dead branches in our life, if we truly love we will inevitably feel the cost of it.  Love always comes with a cost.  But one might ask: why should it be that way; and, is it really worth it?  Before getting to the answer to this question, though, let us first look at the context in which to understand it. 

We just heard St. John teach us in his First Letter: “[God’s] commandment is this: we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another just as he commanded us.”  This is the starting point: to believe and to love, to love as Jesus Christ has loved us (for that is how he commanded us to love), that is, from the cross.  The cross is the pain of the pruning, suffering the blows of God’s chisel.  This is the only way to bear fruit, the fruit of knowing God, of having communion with Him; ultimately, of fulfilling the purpose for which God created us: to be happy with Him now and perfectly happy with Him forever in heaven.

Let us now return to the basic question: is it worth it?  Perhaps the best way to answer this question is to begin from the opposite end: think about what life is like when we live away from God, when a society as a whole refuses to follow this double commandment of faith and love.  We need look no further than the atheistic regimes of the last century and those that continue into this century.  History convicts those regimes of unprecedented brutality and massive, untold suffering.  And if we look more closely we can see these detrimental effects in our own society albeit in lesser ways, as our society moves further and further away from belief in God and from loving the way God created us to love.  We see violence and cancel culture erupting all around us, moral as well as physical violence perpetrated on those who disagree with the point of view of the ones holding positions of power.  This always brings more misery into the world, and the turn away from God happens in subtle as well as obvious ways.

For example, just the other day I heard a news report on the radio about the so-called “polyamory” movement (unions of multiple partners) in which representatives from opposing points of view on the issue were interviewed.  The reporter interviewed a representative of the California Family Council who explained his opposition to this movement on the grounds that children do best when raised by their biological parents in a stable marriage.  All family studies conducted in the last fifty years bear this out.  But the reporter then said that that is not always the case, and to illustrate the point the reporter interviewed a representative of the pro-polyamory movement.  The representative said that he had had a daughter when he was in his 20s and it was “really hard.”  He said it is much easier to have multiple partners raise children rather than just two. 

Did you notice the subtle shift here?  The representative of the California Family Council was addressing the question of what is in the best interest of children, but the story then glosses the fact that it changed the topic.  The man representing the polyamory movement did not rebut the argument of the other because, instead of addressing what is in the best interest of children, he spoke about what is easiest for the adults.  Of course raising children is really hard!  What was he expecting?  But is it worth it?  What do you think makes for a happier, healthier society: adults sacrificing themselves for the children or adults sacrificing the children for themselves?

Speaking Boldly

Sadly, this seems to be a lesson we have to keep learning over and over.  We need the wisdom that comes from believing in God’s Son and loving as he has commanded us to detect these subtle shifts away from the path of love, and see through the counterfeit of self-indulgence masquerading as a social good.  Anything that takes a society away from the recognition of the sovereignty of God will turn to our detriment.  To recognize this and adjust our life accordingly takes great humility, a humility we see modeled in the life of St. Paul. 

Recall what the Acts of the Apostles told us about him in our first reading for Mass today: “When Saul arrived in Jerusalem he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple.”  That is certainly easy to understand given his earlier history of fierce persecution of the Church!  But then he experienced a complete turnaround, to the point where he suffered severely for Jesus Christ, precisely because he believed in him and loved those whom he evangelized, that they be true to Jesus and to his teaching.

What made the difference?  It was his encounter with the risen Jesus, in that fateful moment when he was on the road to Damascus.  When he arrived there after that encounter, instead of persecuting the Church as he had intended, what did he do?  As our first reading tells us: “… in Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus.”  And he didn’t stop there: “He moved about freely with them in Jerusalem, and spoke out boldly in the name of the Lord.  He also spoke and debated with the Hellenists [Greeks], but they tried to kill him.”

So there you have it: the greatest enemy of Jesus Christ becomes his greatest champion, even to the point of death.  We can never outmaneuver God!  I am reminded of those who have been victims of the culture of death, and even those who have perpetrated it, who experience a similar conversion: following that path of humility modeled by St. Paul, they undergo a complete turnaround in their life, and they, too, become the greatest champions of the Gospel of Life, and have the courage and credibility to speak out boldly about it.

Young People Today

Yes, courage is necessary, because all those who take a stand against the culture of death will pay a heavy price, but they will have an even greater prize: the integrity of living the way of faith and love, and the peace of conscience that comes with it.  I therefore want to congratulate you young people who have participated in the Respect Life essay contest.  I encourage you to persevere in your life of faith and love, that you may have the courage to speak boldly on behalf of the sanctity of human life whatever the cost, suffering the blows of God’s chisel by which He will sculpt you into the most beautiful gift you can give back to Him in thanksgiving for all He has given to you.

To develop the kind of character that enables you to do this, though, is not accomplished simply “in word or speech,” as St. John would have it, but instead, as he teaches us, “in deed and truth.”  It all begins with belief in Jesus, a belief expressed in action and in truth, by which one is made capable of loving others the way Christ loves us.  And he relies on us to do so, so that others can encounter him.  Paul’s encounter was an exception, he received a direct apparition of the risen Christ.  But for the rest of us, we have to rely on someone else who can model Christ for us, who can be the instrument he uses to reach those seeking him so that they may encounter him and so know him and love him and in turn share him with others. 

I urge you young people, therefore, to stay strong in the practice of your faith, in prayer, in the sacramental life of the Church, and in doing good for others.  In this way you will be rooted in Jesus Christ, and become the means by which others can encounter him.  Who knows, you may be the means by which the next St. Paul will come into the world!


To “believe in the name of [God’s] Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another just as he commanded us” is the way to love “in deed and in truth.”  Let us do so, let us always follow this double commandment in our lives, so that we may remain in Jesus and so glorify the Father, bear much fruit for His Kingdom, and become his disciples.  Amen.