Tuesday March 13, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Second Week in Lent
Reading (Isaiah 1:10, 16-20) Gospel (St. Matthew 23:1-12)
In the Gospel reading today, Jesus tells the crowds that the Scribes and Pharisees have succeeded Moses as teachers. Therefore, they are to do everything that is taught. The same remains true for us. We look at the faith that has been passed down to us, the faith of the Church, and we know that it is true. We must follow the truth. Now, we can look around at a number of people, even leaders within the Church, and we see that they are not always living the truth. Like any of us, they too are human. They too are sinners, so they donít follow the truth perfectly. Sometimes, people will get the attitude that if these others donít have to follow the truth, then they donít have to follow it either. "If itís okay for them to do these things, then itís okay for me to do these other things." We canít use that kind of reasoning. We have to follow the truth, regardless .
The Lord calls us through the prophet Isaiah, as he calls his own people. He says, "Hear the word of the Lord, O princes of Sodom. Listen to the instruction of our God, people of Gomorrah." You have to put yourself into a Jewish mindset. You realize Sodom and Gomorrah are synonyms for the most sinful place that you can imagine. Because of what happened in Sodom and Gomorrah, it was destroyed by fire and brimstone. So God is now calling to his own people. Heís not actually calling to the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, they had been destroyed for years by that time. Heís calling to the people of Israel. Basically, what He is saying is : "Look at your sins. You are no better that the people of Sodom and Gomorrah." He is calling us to the same thing. Itís also interesting to note, just as a little point, that this comes right out of the first chapter of the prophet Isaiah. This is the way God begins through this prophetís work: calling His people to repentance.
Then the Lord said something that is so wonderful. He talks about putting away our misdeeds, washing ourselves and doing right. Then He says, "Though your sins be as scarlet they will become white as snow. Though they be crimson red, they will become white as wool." That is what the Lord wants to do for us. He takes us, who are so sinful, and He calls us to humble ourselves. As the Lord tells us at the end of the Gospel: "Those who humble themselves will be exalted." What is the exaltation? What is the humility?
The humility, first and foremost, is to admit our sinfulness. And not just generically. "Oh yeah, Iím a sinner just like everybody else." But to actually be willing to come to the Lord, get down on our knees and say, "Bless me, father, for I have sinned." Then to enumerate our sins. To lay them out very clearly and very humbly. Then the Lord will exalt us. He will take our sinful souls, He will wipe them clean and they will be radiant. He will take our humility and He will exalt us. Not so that we can walk out feeling arrogant, certainly not. We have to remember our humility. But it is God who will exalt us if we humble ourselves. If we try to suggest that we donít need to go to confession, that we are not sinful, that somehow we are better than the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, or that we are better than the people of Jerusalem 2000 years ago, then we are exalting ourselves. If that is the case, then we think that we do not need the Lord, that we donít really need to have anything to do with Him. We will be humbled for the rest of eternity if that is our attitude.
So we need to humble ourselves now. We need to acknowledge our sinfulness. We need to acknowledge that what we have done is blood-red, it is scarlet. What we have done is horrible, but it is not so big that God cannot forgive it. It is pure pride on our part when we sit back (and we all know people that fall into this) and say, "Oh, my sin is too big. God canít forgive me, Iím too horrible." It is pure pride. Think about what that really mean: I can do something bigger than God. I, in my puny humanity, can actually do something that is greater than God. God canít handle this one because what I did is bigger than Him. It is impossible. It is ridiculous. It is pure pride. Nothing is bigger than God. "The biggest sin we can commit", St. Therese tells us, "is like one tiny drop in an ocean of Godís mercy." It is as nothing for God. So we need to humble ourselves. We need to come before the Lord and we need to trust Him. He will take that blood-red, scarlet soul of ours and He will make it white as snow. He will remove the sins and make our soul radiant and brilliant in the image of Himself, the way we were created to be. But the only way that we will be able to accept it, is if we first are humbled. So we humble ourselves to come before the Lord. Then, in our exalted state that God places us in, we will remain humble because we will have our sin always before us. We will be acknowledging the mercy of God, acknowledging the dignity, acknowledging what Heís done in our souls. But we are always to remain humble and recognize that we are not worthy by ourselves. It is Godís gift. We will glorify Him the way that He created us to do because we will recognize His gift and His mercy. We will give to Him all the credit for what it is that He has done.
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.