'If two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done...For when two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them...' -- Mt 18:20

"If today you hear His voice, harden not your heart:" Those are the words to Psalm 95 (1-2,6-9), which is a combination of a profession of faith and a penitential rite.

This psalm was often sung as the people of Israel would process to the temple. They would sing this to remind themselves that their ancestors had turned their hearts from the Lord.

The psalm reminds us not to harden ourselves; otherwise, we will not be able to hear God speaking to us. If we don't harden ourselves to God, we will not harden ourselves toward others, and vice versa: "Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven" (Mt 18:18).

We have to let go of being unforgiving. What is bound up in our hearts hardens them. We all have stories where we feel we have been wronged. When we hold that "unforgiveness" in our hearts, the only one who ultimately suffers is ourselves.

Psalm 95 calls us to worship God with fidelity, to be just and merciful toward others as God is to us. God does not harden His heart against us when we have sinned; rather, God gave us His love and forgiveness in the person of His Son.

Pope's example
There is no better example of how sin is confronted with the love of Jesus Christ than Pope St. John Paul II's visit to the jail where the man who shot him in 1981 was imprisoned. St. John Paul confronted sin face to face in 1983 when he forgave his would-be assassin, Mehmet Ali Agca.

It would have been so easy for St. John Paul to harden his heart, but Christ's own sacred heart, which is the fullness of reconciling love, had filled it long before, so the pope could forgive.

Christ confronts sin by pouring out His love on the cross. St. Paul tells the Roman Church in Sunday's second reading (Rom 13:8-10) that they are commanded to love even when they have not been loved by others: "Brothers and sisters, owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law."

Pope St. John Paul II understood that sin can only be confronted by love. The words of St. Paul must have echoed in his heart when he recalled, "Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is fulfillment of the law" (Rom 13:10). St. Paul reminds the Romans that one cannot say they love God and then do evil against their neighbor. If we don't love our neighbor in the same way we are to love God, we have allowed sin to get ahold of us.

Pope St. John Paul II, as shepherd of the flock and like all those entrusted with leadership in the Church, was called to guard against sin and the corruption of the faithful. God has always sent shepherds who are guardians of the faith. "Thus says the Lord: You, Son of Man, I have appointed watchmen for the house of Israel; when you hear me say anything, you shall warn them for me" (Ezekiel 33:7-9).

Positions of power
How we warn others has more to do with how we love, rather than a position of power. True authority comes from our respect and love for God and neighbor. The Son of Man to whom Ezekiel refers is the messianic figure promised by God: Jesus Christ.

The Son of Man comes in power and glory as a kind and benevolent judge of all. He is a suffering Messiah whose heart is pierced for the love of all humanity.

Jesus confronts sin with love. He tells His disciples they must, too: "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother" (Mt 18:15-20).

Jesus says when we become indifferent to sin, we become indifferent to love. It is love that binds us to Christ and to one another, writes St. Matthew: "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them."