Monday March 5, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier First Week of Lent
Reading (Leviticus19:1-2, 11-18) Gospel (Matthew 25:31-46)
* The following homily was given at a parish mission in Breckenridge, MN.
In the first reading today, God tells us in the book of Leviticus that we are to be holy because He is holy. We are made in the image and likeness of God. God is holy. Therefore, if we are to be His image we too must be holy. One could ask, "What would it look like to be holy?" Itís like the rich young man who came up to Jesus and asked Him, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus told him, "Follow the commandments." If we want to be holy, if we want to do things Godís way, He has laid them out very clearly for us. We have the Ten Commandments. The Jewish people had many more than that. They had 613 commandments, actually, if you go all the way through the Scriptures and find all of the things they had to follow. We are not required to do that. Many of those laws have passed away, although not all of them. All the ceremonial laws have passed away, but the moral laws have not. We are still required to follow the moral laws.
But Our Lord takes it one step further, and that is what we hear in the Gospel today. Itís not just a matter of an external observance of laws. Itís not that we will be able to stand before the Lord one day and say, "Well, I confessed all my sins and I have followed the commandments. Iíve gone to Mass on Sunday. Iíve tried not to use Your name in vain. I havenít killed anybody. Iíve tried not to commit any sins against purity." We could go right through the commandments. Then Jesus will say, "What about charity?" Thatís what the Gospel reading today was all about: " When I was imprisoned you visited me, when I was naked you gave me clothing, when I was thirsty you gave me to drink, when I was hungry you fed me, ..." The thing that is very interesting is, if we look at these passages, the Lord is very merciful when it comes to sins of commission. That is, the things that we actually did. I violated this commandment. I brought that to the Lord and confessed it. He is merciful and forgives. But notice where He has no tolerance: the sins of omission. Those are the ones that we usually forget about. When we think about what we confess, itís usually the things that we did. Jesus condemns these people for the things that they did not do. The things that they should have done and failed to do. Thatís the part that we really need to look at if weíre going to be holy. We need to practice charity. Charity is to go beyond the self. Itís to seek the good of the other. True charity is never selfish. It pours the self out, it gives totally. That is not an easy thing for any of us to do. Itís much easier for us to look at it the other way and say, "What did I do wrong?" But in this case, it is a question of what did I fail to do right? Did I fail in goodness? Did I not do Godís will in something? The Lord makes clear that is part of the holiness that is required of us. It is not an option for us. We must practice charity if we are going to be Christian people. Remember, that is the commandment the Lord gave to us: to love. If we are going to love, it means we must practice charity.
So, the Lord never has a shortage of opportunities for us. In His goodness, He provides it for us all the time. Whether itís the little tiny things like saying "Good morning" to someone or giving them a kind word, calling someone when theyíre feeling down or when theyíre sick, or when theyíre bereaved or whatever it may be. Whether itís taking care of the stranger, welcoming somebody, whatever it might be. I hope that here you donít have the same problems we have in the cities. One of my pet peeves is when youíre walking down the sidewalk, and there are only two people on the entire sidewalk, and the other person looks away or looks down at the sidewalk and refuses even to say "Hello". They wonít make eye contact, they wonít say "Good morning". Thereís just nothing there. That is the norm living in the city. Hopefully, out here itís not the same problem. It is a smaller community, you know one another, and hopefully, thatís not a problem. But you are human and I am sure that there are some people that there are some tensions with. Some people in town, perhaps, that you have a little struggle with. Are you willing to reconcile? Are you willing to go beyond yourself to say "Good morning" to that person, to give that person a smile? Are you willing to be kind to them? That is the absolute minimum of charity. If the other person doesnít respond, thereís no sin on your part. What we have to be careful of is that we donít walk away and say, "Well, if thatís the way theyíre going to be, then Iíll do the same." No, we need to look at Jesus and ask ourselves, "How would He handle this?" Jesus came to reconcile people. Jesus practiced charity. He told us that we must love our enemy and we must pray for our persecutors. So if there is somebody with whom you are at odds, it is a sin of omission if you do not reach out, if you do not practice at least the minimum of charity for that person. Pray for them. Be kind to them. Reach out to them. Try to reconcile with them. Those are the things that we must do if we are going to be the sheep of the Lordís flock that will be on His right hand and be welcomed into the eternity that God has prepared for His angels and for those who love Him.
Note: Father Altier does not prepare his homilies in advance, but relies solely upon the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.