The first letter of John invites us to discern the spirits at work in our hearts and in our lives at a much deeper level, a task that Pope Francis says is urgently necessary in our own day. John speaks in the strongest terms: “everyone who hates his brother is a murderer” (1 Jn 3:15). This does not mean that the person who hates his brother physically kills his brother, or else our prisons would be full of murderers (and we would all be behind bars). But, in order to genuinely do discernment, we should nonetheless recognize the gravity of what John indicates: to hate our brother is essentially to kill him, because we kill him in our hearts, and our actions—whether directly or passive-aggressively—work towards this same terrible end.
We should, then, judge the truth of love “not in word or speech but in deed and truth” (1 Jn 3:18). There are people who claim to love, but in their hearts condemn others to damnation. They become murderers. Jesus, however, is not a doctor of damnation but of salvation. “The way we came to know love was that he laid down his life for us; so we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers” (1 Jn 3:16). If we claim to know this love and to live from it, we must be ruthless in rooting out the spirits within our hearts that lead us to hate our brothers, for “no murderer has eternal life remaining in him” (1 Jn 3:15). This is not a task that we can do on our own, but it is a task that Jesus wishes to help us with through the gift of his Holy Spirit.
Let us ask Jesus for the grace to know interiorly that when we hate our brothers—killing them in our hearts—we have not merely become their murderers, but have murdered Jesus himself, who lets himself be slain out of love not only for us, but also for those whom we hate. Seeing this great love of Jesus for us, let us let ourselves be conquered by this love, and then let us beg to be moved to love the one whose life Jesus preferred to his own: the very person that we have condemned to hell in our hearts. It is out of love for that person that Jesus let himself be slain, so that that person, whom Jesus loves like no other, might be raised to live forever in heaven’s self-giving love. Should we not then love those whom Jesus loves, if we claim to love him?