Thursday August 2, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Exodus 40:16-21, 34-38) Gospel (St. Matthew 13:47-53)
In the Gospel reading today, just as in yesterday's, the Lord makes clear that hell is a reality. There are people who do not want to believe that. They want to believe that in the end everybody goes to Heaven: "As long as you believe in the name of Jesus, you go straight to Heaven. God is so merciful that when you die and stand before Him, you are going to repent and He will let you in because He would not allow anybody to go to hell where they would suffer." Or, they will say things like: "Well, if there is a hell, nobody is in it, or maybe very few; but they would have to be so wicked and so evil and so horrible, that is the only way they are going to get there."
We know better than that, we just do not like to think about it. The fact of the matter is that anyone who does not die in the state of grace will go to hell, plain and simple. On the other hand, everyone who does die in the state of grace will go to Heaven; they may have to stop in Purgatory for a while, but they will go to Heaven. And so, it is just two possibilities for eternity.
We cannot sit back and have the laissez-faire attitude of Americans these days and think that, as long as we do whatever we want to do and then go to church, we are going to Heaven. It is not going to happen that way. We need to make sure that we are living our lives for the Lord.
In the first reading today, we heard all about the cloud that led the people of Israel through the desert. We hear that it was a cloud in the daytime and that it was fire in the night. Well, stop and ask yourself, "Who else do we see that is represented as a cloud and as a fire?" It is the Holy Spirit. So, the Lord gave the Holy Spirit to the people of Israel to lead them, and He has done the exact same thing for us. That is why the Lord would say, "The one sin that absolutely will not be forgiven is the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit," - because the Holy Spirit has been poured forth in our hearts to lead us to the Lord; to lead us through this world of a desert into the promised land of eternity, into Heaven itself. The Lord has given us everything. What we need to make sure of is that we are following Him.
Inspired by the Holy Spirit, we hear that Moses, then, was obedient and did everything that God commanded him: He built the dwelling place, and he did all the things exactly as the Lord had commanded. So too, for our lives: we become the dwelling place of God. We become the sanctuary of the Lord who dwells within. Like Moses, we need to do what God commands.
And it is not difficult. People think that if we are doing what God commands, we are being slaves or we are having our freedom taken away from us or this is too hard to be able to do. But it is not. To follow the commandments of God is true freedom. To be obedient is true freedom. It does not take our freedom away; but rather, it enhances it and perfects it. We need to be able to see it the other way.
It is the devil who is right there to say, "You do not have to be obedient. You do not have to do what God commands because that is not good for you. Be free! Be yourself! Make your own decisions - then you can be with me for the rest of eternity. I made my own decision. I decided how I was going to do it, not having God tell me what to do." We know what happened to him and we do not want to be like him.
We have our choice of which spirit we are going to follow. There are, ultimately, only two. We can talk about the spirit of the world, we can talk about all the various other things, but ultimately there is the Holy Spirit and then there is the evil spirit. Anything that is not holy, is not of God. So we have our choice.
The Holy Spirit is like a cloud; He is also like a fire. But being a cloud, He is not always easy to see. So we need to pray, we need to ask for direction and for discernment, and we need to exercise our free will to say "yes" to God. Like the people of Israel, and like Moses, we can say, "Yes, we will do everything the Lord has commanded us." We will follow the Holy Spirit through the desert of this world and then we will be counted among those just who, on the last day, will be brought into the glory of God's Kingdom.
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.