Friday July 6, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Gen. 23:1-4, 19; 24:1-8, 62-67) Gospel (St. Matthew 9:9-13)
In the Gospel reading, Our Lord tells us that He has not come to call the self-righteous, but the sinners. Well, thanks be to God because we all fall into that category. Unfortunately, there are probably many of us who also fit into the other category, that is, thinking ourselves to be self-righteous; not that we are, by ourselves, self-righteous - we cannot be. But unfortunately, in our pride, we sometimes think ourselves to be that way. If this is the case, what the Lord has to do is work with us to get all of that out so we become truly humble, so that we recognize our sinfulness and our weakness. Then, we will turn to Him. We will no longer think that we can do things by ourselves. We will no longer think ourselves to be righteous by our own doing; but rather, we will recognize that all goodness and all righteousness within us comes from the Lord.
We see that, for instance, with Abraham. Now it is towards the end of his life and he has become truly humble and obedient in all things. Prior to that, as we have seen over the days, he was not that way. He tried to take matters into his own hands. He knew the Lord's promise and he got a little puffed up about that, probably no different than the rest of us. If the Lord had appeared to you and made a promise to you, it is very easy to get caught up in that, thinking somehow that we are better than other people. Or perhaps because the Lord has done this we might think: "I was so good, I was so righteous and so wonderful that the Lord picked me."
He will quickly make clear that is not the case. Remember that it is usually just the opposite: The Lord picks the weakest and He picks the worst. That is why He chose us. None of us can sit here today and say, "It is because I was so holy that the Lord chose me." No. I think all of us, however, can say the opposite because that is the way He works. "He chooses the weak and makes them strong," Saint Paul says, "in bearing witness to Christ."
But if the Lord has been working in your life and has been making you strong in bearing witness to Christ, if He has been making you strong in faith, be very careful not to become self-righteous and conceited because you see your own strength. Even that came from the Lord. One of the things that happens rather frequently in the spiritual life is that as we begin to grow and we see we are on the right track and we are rejoicing because we are doing what is right, all of a sudden, we get caught up in ourselves. We take our eyes off the Lord and we start looking at ourselves and we think we have got it made. We start saying things to ourselves like: "I am never going to commit that sin again! I am finally over all of this. Now I have got things turned around! Now I am on the right track. Now I will never go back to the way that I was!" Be careful. That means you are just about to fall right back into the old pattern because you are trying to do it yourself and not allowing the Lord to do it for you. You are taking your eyes off the Lord because you have decided you can do it all by yourself and you do not need Him. What He will do is to say, "Well, fine. If you think you do not need Me, go ahead and do it your own way and watch what happens." We will not be so happy anymore about our own self-righteousness. The Lord will remind us of our weakness and our humility.
So, keep the focus on the Lord. It does not matter how holy one becomes. When you read the saints, they do not talk about themselves as being wonderful - just the opposite. They always talk about the Lord because they know that He is the only way they can do what they do. The holier one becomes, the more dependent that person becomes on the Lord. We realize the Lord chose us because we were sinners. He chose us because we were weak. He chose us because he could not find anybody that was worse than us and, therefore, He picked us for that reason. Never ever forget that. And never become caught up in the self, thinking that we are no longer that way, thinking "Now, we have got it made." No, we do not. We are still weak and we will still fall, if left to ourselves. Always keep this little verse in mind: "I did not come to call the self-righteous, but the sinners."
Note: Father Altier does not write 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.