Sunday April 1, 2001 (Audio) Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Fifth Sunday in Lent
Reading I (Isaiah 43:16-21) Reading I (Philippians 3:8-14)
Gospel (St. John 8:1-11)
"See, I am doing something new. Do you not perceive it?" The Lord asks this question through the prophet Isaiah in the first reading today. He tells us that we are to forget the things of the past, and we are to look ahead because there is something entirely new. The interesting thing in this is, that when He is talking about forgetting the things of the past, He is even talking about the most important events in Israelís history. He talks about the opening of the Red Sea. He talks about leading Pharoahís chariots and army out into the sea and then closing the sea on them while the people of Israel entered through the sea and were freed. Yet he says, "Donít think about that so much. Look forward. Stop looking back and look ahead." While it is important to know that God has done these extraordinary things and He is with His people, what is more necessary is to know not simply that He was with our ancestors years ago, but that He is with us now. And that He is doing something now that He has not done in the past.
So, for the people of Israel, they might fall into the trap of thinking, "Why isnít God working the extraordinary things He did in the past?" In fact, we even see that several times we read in the Scriptures where some of the people would say, "We have heard of the things You did in the past for our forefathers. Where are You today? You did these extraordinary things: there were the plagues in Egypt, the crossing of the Red Sea, the fire on the mountain, and the Ten Commandments. There were all these extraordinary events that took place and we are not seeing them today. Where are You, Lord?" What He is saying is that He is doing something entirely different. It is entirely new. We cannot look today to try to figure out, based on the past, what is happening now. We canít look to the events of the crossing of the Red Sea to say, "Shouldnít these extraordinary kinds of things be happening today?" He says, "No, I am doing something entirely different now." So we need to look in a different way.
Saint Paul picks up the exact same theme in the second reading today. He says that he no longer looks to the past, but he only struggles forward into the future. He is striving for the goal. For us, this is where we can see this newness that the Lord is talking about. The Church puts these two readings in juxtaposition for us today so that we can understand what this newness is about. It has to do with our sins. We saw last week where the Lord said to Joshua that He "has removed the reproach of Egypt from the people of Israel." Heís removed the sinfulness. Heís removed everything that Egypt stands for: the slavery to sin and all the evil. And He is doing something which is entirely new. Saint Paul is saying, "I donít look to the past. Iíve put all my sins behind me, they are forgiven, they are gone. I now strive forward to the future. I look forward to the goal."
It is a very important thing that he points out as well, he says, "..not that I consider that I already have possession of it." It is a very important passage, if you are talking to any of your Fundamentalist friends who want to say that they are already saved. Here is Saint Paul saying, "I do not consider that I have already achieved the goal." He is not claiming that heís already saved. He is striving for the goal. So are we. But oftentimes, what happens is that we get stuck in our sins. We keep looking backwards, instead of looking forward. It is true that what happened in the past did, in fact, happen. We keep saying, "Lord, look at what I did." We even wonder to ourselves sometimes and say, "Can God forgive this? How can I be forgiven for this?" And the devil is right there to hold our sins in front of our face and say, "Look at what you did!" Heís trying to get us to despair of Godís mercy. So like Saint Paul, we have to be able to say, "Iíve put all of the things of the past behind me and I look forward to the goal. IĎm looking ahead to Jesus; Iím looking to the Resurrection." If you have confessed your sins, they are gone. They are forgiven, theyíre not there anymore. Stop looking at them and look ahead. Look to the One who has forgiven your sins.
While it is true that we have sinned, it is more true that we have been forgiven. As Saint Paul says elsewhere, "Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more." So, no matter how horrible our sins have been, the grace of God is there in abundance, not only to make up for our sins, but even to project us beyond them. The Lord makes very clear in the Gospel reading today, that He doesnít hold these things against us any longer. When you think about what happened to this woman in the Gospel, these people actually catch her in the very act of adultery. There is no trial that is necessary, she is caught red-handed, if you will. They bring her to Jesus to test Him, to see what Heís going to do with this woman. Is He really going to follow the Law? They themselves wouldnít. By that time in Judaism, they would not have stoned this woman. But they bring her to Jesus to see if Heís going to do this. After all, if He is a righteous teacher, the righteous one would follow the Law. So naturally, He would say, "Stone her. She was caught in adultery, stone her." That is what they were looking for: Is He really going to do what the Law says, or is He going to follow what the customs of the people were at that point and say, "Yes, I know that is what the Law says, but we wonít worry about it." Once again, He just turns the whole thing right around on them. As they walk away, He looks at the woman and says, "Where have they all gone? Has no one condemned you?" Then He says, "Neither do I."
Now put that into the context of your own self. Jesus knows the sins we have committed. We have been caught in the very act of any sin that we have ever committed. We are totally guilty. Yet, when we confess our sins He looks at us and says, "Has no one condemned you? Did that priest sitting in the confessional not condemn you? You came to him and you actually told him, ĎThis is what I did.í Did he not condemn you?" Then He looks at us and says, "Neither do I." But the next line is also exceedingly important. He says, "Now go, and sin no more."
Godís mercy is not something that we can presume upon. Itís not something that we can say, "We can go out and sin because we can just come to confession and itís not a problem. God doesnít care if we sin because He doesnít condemn us anyway." That is presumption. Presumption is a mortal sin. We need to make sure we are doing what it actually says in the Act of Contrition: that not only are we going to confess our sins but we truly do intend to amend our lives, we are going to try to avoid the near occasions of sin, and weíre going to do what we can to change. Some of the Acts of Contrition put it as it was in the Gospel. They actually say: I firmly intend with Your help to sin no more.
Which is exactly what the Lord tells us in the Gospel reading today: Sin no more. That is what we need to be about. We need to be renewed in mind and heart. We need to have a change, we need to stop living according to the old way and live according to the new way. Itís not just a matter of us saying, "Letís stop thinking about our sins." But it is a matter of changing our entire life, of putting the past behind us, of "taking on the new man" as Saint Paul says. It is a matter of dying to ourselves and to the old way and living according to the new way. This is something which is very difficult for us because we live in a world that is totally immersed in the old way.
Each one of us is a new creation in Jesus Christ. As we have seen over the last couple of weeks, the world does not want to be a new creation. But we are immersed in the world all too often. What would Saint Paul say about us today? "Itís all lost and I consider it rubbish." The word that he uses is even a little bit more rabid than that. Itís rubbish, itís garbage! When you drive home today, look around, and when you get home, ask yourself, "Do I consider all of this lost, that I might have Jesus Christ? Or am I attached to all of these things? Am I really living my life for Jesus Christ?"
You see, if we arenít living our life in a day to day way for Jesus Christ, neither are we going to be able to put our sins behind us entirely because they are always going to be right there. They are always going to be staring us in our face because we continue to live the same kind of life. Maybe we are not committing the sin anymore, but we havenít fully turned our lives around, either. We have turned them to some degree, we have turned away from the sin, but we are still living immersed in the world. Saint Paul is telling us, "Put everything of the past behind." Not only the sin but the entire way that we have lived. Change, so that weíre living a new life in Christ. Consider it all lost. There is nothing in this world that is not passing. There is nothing in this world that we are going to take with us. Everything here is going to be left behind. Therefore, we need to start now to leave it behind. Look ahead, look at Jesus.
When we look at the people around us, that will change everything if we are looking at Jesus. We will begin to truly love them. Solely for their sake, for who they are. Not for us, not for what we get out of it, but for them. All the things we have, we are going to approach them in a different way. We will use what we need, because we need them. We will see the good in the things that are there and we will use them for the glory of God, not for our own selfish whims. Everything that we do will be directed toward salvation. That is the way we need to begin living now, in all things. Next time you go to the store and you are going to buy something, ask yourself, "Do I really need this? Will this thing help to lead me closer to Heaven? Or is it going to lead me away from Jesus? Is it about myself? Or is it about the good of others and true necessity?" When we look at other people, when we look at our families, we can ask ourselves, "Am I truly loving them for their sake? Am I pouring myself out? Am I serving the needs of others out of love for neighbor? Or do I look instead for others to take care of me? Is it about the self or is it about other people? Is it about me or is it about Christ?"
Do we see the surpassing value of Jesus Christ? Do we embrace that? Do we live it? That is what we need to take on: to strive for that goal like Saint Paul said. He didnít consider that he already had it. So we are not going to walk out of here today completely turned; it is a process. It is something that we have to keep working at. But do we want to do it? This is the real question that we need to ask today. Do we want to put the things of the world, and the things of our own past behind us? Do we really want to live in Jesus Christ? Do we want to know of the surpassing value of knowing Jesus Christ? To be united to Him, living our life for Him. Sinning no more. "God is doing something entirely new. Do you not perceive it?" He is doing it in your heart, in your mind, in your life. He is turning you around. Donít look to the past; put the past entirely behind you. Instead, look inside and see what God is doing. Ask Him in prayer to show you what He is doing in your life, how He is changing it, how He is turning it around. Look to the future. Strive for the goal. The goal is Jesus Christ and eternal life with 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.