Wednesday June 13, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Tenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (2 Corinthians 3:4-11) Gospel (St. Matthew 5:17-19)
We hear Saint Paul talking about the written law and the law of the Spirit. We would be tempted to think that somehow the written law is bad because of the way he talks about it. "It is a law of condemnation," he says, and he makes all these different points about it. But it is not bad at all, it is the law of God. That is what Jesus makes clear in the Gospel: "Not even the smallest part of a letter is going to pass away." What it actually says in the Greek is "Not even a jot or a tittle will pass away." That would be like saying: "Not even a dot above an "i" is going to pass away before it all comes to fulfillment."
Why, then, does Saint Paul call it the law of condemnation? Because the reason the majority of those laws (all the ritual laws) are there is due to the disobedience of the people. Every time they sinned, God had to make new laws to tell them what they could not do. They knew that it was wrong. If you come into confession and tell the priest that you have done some specific thing, the priest may tell you: "When you go home, I want you to throw this thing away. Get rid of it, get it out, because this is what is causing you to sin." If you look at the ritual laws, that is basically what God is doing: "You did this, now the law requires you to do exactly the opposite." If you read the Scriptures carefully, each time the people sinned there is a new law, or a new series of laws, specifically directed at the area of their sin. That is why it is the law of condemnation. All of these ritualistic laws are not what God originally intended.
Now, that is different from the Ten Commandments because those are moral laws, not ritual laws. The Ten Commandments written on stone are also written in our hearts because they are part of natural law. It is part of the law of the Spirit, as well. It is not that Saint Paul is making a distinction between the law (which is the Ten Commandments and the moral laws) and what the Holy Spirit is leading us to. It is not as if we could say, "Well, good! We do not have to follow the Ten Commandments anymore. We have the Holy Spirit. We are enlightened, we have finally come to the full understanding (as Americans seem to think) that we do not need the Ten Commandments." It is wrong! The Ten Commandments are a foundation and they are part of the law of the Spirit, which is given in glory. Saint Paul says it is a law that justifies. So, it is a law that makes us righteous because it is a law of holiness that is written in our hearts and on our minds.
It is not simply following something that is external to ourselves. It is no longer a matter of making reparation for the sins which we have committed. We still, of course, need to do that; but it is not a matter that the law stipulates what those are; rather what the law stipulates now, the law of the Holy Spirit written in our hearts, is growth in holiness. It stipulates how we can be in union with God - not an external following, but an internal union with the Lord. That is what we are being called to. That is, ultimately, what the old law was aimed at: leading the people back in that direction because they had let themselves go astray. But now, since that has been taken care of, we have this new law which has a "surpassing glory" as Saint Paul says. He says this because nobody is going to be saved by the old law, since nobody could fulfill it perfectly. But the new law, the law of righteousness and justification, the law of surpassing glory, will bring us to heaven. It is the law that saves us, it is the law that brings us into union with Jesus Christ. That is the point Saint Paul is making. It is not to make a distinction between the two, but it is rather to show the surpassing glory of what we have in Christ. While we follow the Ten Commandments and the precepts of the law, it is not the ritual law, but the moral law. With the Holy Spirit poured into our hearts, we have all the grace, we have all the things we need for true and complete union with Jesus Christ.
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.