Tuesday August 21, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Judges 6:11-24a) Gospel (St. Matthew 19:23-30)
Our Lord, in the Gospel reading, says something that we need to understand very deeply. When the apostles ask Him who can be saved, His answer is: "For man it is impossible." Impossible. That is what we need to understand: It is impossible. "But for God," He says, "all things are possible." We cannot save ourselves no matter what we do. We cannot earn it; we cannot deserve it; we cannot do anything of ourselves. We can try to cooperate with God; we can do our part. But if from this day forward we lived our entire life without sin, we could not save ourselves.
Even the Blessed Virgin Mary, who never even committed the slightest imperfection, could not save herself. It required the death of her Son for Our Lady to be able to go to Heaven. We must understand that. It is only in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that we have any hope of salvation. We cannot earn it. We cannot impress God. We cannot try to suggest to God that we deserve to go to Heaven because I think we all know far better than that; we all know what we deserve - and it is not eternity with God.
But God, in His love for us, wants us to be in Heaven with Him. He does not guarantee it. He makes very clear delineations and requirements about what must be done, but He desires that we would all be able to be in Heaven with Him and He grants us the grace to do it.
Yet, we also must understand the way God works. I have told you many times before that God chooses the least of the least and we see it in the first reading today when God sends His angel down to Gideon and Gideon says, "Who am I? My family, after all, is the smallest in Manasseh and I am the most insignificant in my family." God chose the least of the least. We must understand that He has done the exact same thing with each one of us. It sounds rather trite and cute to be able to say: "God could not find anyone worse, that is why He picked you and me." It is not trite - it is the truth. If God could have found anyone worse, He would have picked them; He couldn't, so He picked us!
And that is not something that we should walk around hanging our heads about, saying, "Oh, poor me." But rather we should praise God because if we thought we could do it ourselves, He would let us try. Unfortunately, we all try too many times to do it ourselves, but we must understand that He picked us because we were the weakest, because we were the least, because we were the ones who could not possibly think for a moment that we could do it by ourselves. That is what we must get through our skulls. We cannot, it is impossible, and there is no way that we could even come close to thinking that we deserve Heaven. We cannot buy our way in; we cannot earn it; we cannot deserve it. What we must understand is that the only place for us in on our knees in front of the Lord praising Him, thanking Him, and giving Him honor and glory because in His mercy He has chosen us. Again, it is not because we were the best, not because we were the most impressive, not because He could not find anybody better, but all just the opposite.
That is hard for our pride to be able to hear. We would like to think that we were the best and the brightest and that God could not have done any better and that is why He chose us. But Scripture makes it very clear that is not the case. God chooses the least. As Saint Paul tells us: "God chooses those that the world considers low-born to put to shame those whom the world considers to be well-born." He chooses the ones that the world considers the least, "the refuse" as Saint Paul would call it, to put to shame those who think that they are something. So if we wander around thinking that we are really something else, then we had better think again.
And we need to make sure we do not water down the Scriptures. Think about what the Lord says right before He tells us it is impossible - and do not water the word down, it is impossible for us to get to Heaven on our own. Think of what He tells us, and do not try to find a way around it: "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into Heaven." Keep that image before your eyes always as we live in this disgustingly affluent society. "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle…" Think of the eye of a needle: It is a tiny, tiny, little thing. Then think of a camel and try to get that camel through the eye of that needle; that is what it is going to be like for the wealthy to try and get into Heaven. And not only for those who have huge bank accounts - all of us are wealthy. There is not one of us here, no matter how poor we might think we are, who can count ourselves among the truly poor of the world.
The only hope that we have is Jesus Christ. It is not a reason to despair; but rather, it is a reason to rejoice because we know that we cannot do it. No matter how hard we try, no matter what the case may be, we have only one hope - and it is not ourselves. Our hope lies only in Jesus Christ.
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.