Tuesday June 5, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Ninth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Tobit 2:9-14) Gospel (St. Mark 12:13-17 )
At the end of the Gospel reading today, Our Lord speaks one of the more famous lines from Scripture: "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and give to God what is God's." We use that every once in a while for various reasons but we really need to ask ourselves, "What is God's? What is it that we are supposed to give to God? What can we give to God?" After all, God made everything that exists, He holds it in being, and it is His. That is what Scripture tells us: "All the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field are Mine." Everything that exists is His; which is why if one lives in total, willful poverty they have nothing worldly, but they have everything because at that point whatever is God's is theirs because they are detached from all things.
So, what is it that we can give to God? He does not need our money; He does not need our material things; He does not need anything. What He wants is our hearts. What we can give to God has to do with our free will. Everything else outside of us belongs to Him. But because He made us with free will, He gives us the choice of whether or not we are going to love Him, whether or not we are going to worship Him, whether or not we are going to pray, whether or not we are going to live a good, holy, and virtuous life. That is what we can make the choice of. That is what we can give to God because that is what belongs to Him.
Our heart was made for God but He will not take it from us. He will receive it from us as an offering, as a gift. But He will not take it because that would be a violation of our dignity. He gives to us the knowledge that this is what we ought to do and then He leaves it to us to make the choice. It seems an obvious choice, but, as we have spoken about so many times, it is not an easy one. To be able to say we need to give our minds and our hearts, everything that we are to God, that is what we all want to do, it is what we say we want to do, but doing it is a whole other matter. We would like to give part of ourselves to God. Some of us are pretty stingy and we only want to give a little, tiny bit to God and we want to reserve the rest for ourselves. If we are serious about giving ourselves to God, even then it is usually only little by little, step by step that we are actually able to let go. God will give us the grace to move along slowly.
The way that it is stripped away from us is by suffering. We see in the first reading today when Anna, the wife of Tobit, says to him, "Where are your virtuous deeds now? Where are your good acts? Now your true character has come out!" That is the way it has to be for all of us. We need to be humble if we are going to give everything to the Lord. What He does (in mercy and charity) is, if we are willing to give it all to Him, He helps us. Part of the way He helps us is to strip the nice façade that we have put up. We like to put up the façade that everything is in control. We are very good, we are very happy, … whatever it is. Then God, one day, says, "Good. As long as you think that, let us take that little façade away and see what is underneath." Down it comes and then out comes all the junk that is underneath. We do not like what we see, but that is the reality of what is underneath. Only in suffering, only in the deprivation of the spiritual life, does that come out. So, we work on that, getting rid of all those vices, and it is no longer a façade that is there; rather, what is there is real. It is not just putting up a nice front for people to see, but it comes from the depths of our being. That is what we see in the lives of the saints. After their suffering, after they are stripped of everything, the truth comes out. The true love of God, the true gift that they offer to God and neighbor, the true love for which they were created is then able to shine forth radiantly.
The same can happen for each one of us. We have the capacity. The only question is: Are we willing to do it? In theory, we all say 'yes'; in practice, most people say 'no'. We need to be serious about it. Just think - when Our Lord says, "Render to Caesar what is Caesar's" - what happens every April when the taxman wants his money? We are not too happy about giving it up. When God wants what is His, we usually are not too happy about giving that, either, unless we know what is on the other side. Then we can see the goodness and we can rejoice in giving it up because we know what God has in store. Something far more than we could ever give to Him is what He will give to us. That is what we need to be about: always, every day, offering ourselves to the Lord and giving to God what is His.
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.