Friday September 7, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twenty-Second Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Sirach 3:17-24) Gospel (St. Matthew 16:24-27)
This homily was given at a Poor Clare Monastery
in Central Minnesota
It is a great privilege to be here and to be able to celebrate the patronal feast of this holy diocese: the feast of Saint Cloud. Saint Cloud, as most of you probably know, was a prince who became a hermit. He was born in the year 522 and died in the year 560. His grandfather was the first king of France.
After watching two of his uncles kill his two older brothers, Saint Cloud was able to escape and he was raised by his very holy grandmother. She taught him how to pray, but he had to be hidden away from his uncles who would have killed him. As political intrigue has it, since he was the heir to the throne they wanted his power, as well as his money and his land and all the other things. He basically grew up in solitude, and he began to love that solitude; he began to love the silence and the prayer because his grandmother had taught him the necessity and goodness of prayer. She recognized the holiness of this little boy that she was raising.
As time would go along, when he was about twenty years old, a group of his people came to the castle looking for him and saying that they would support him. They would be an army for him to protect him. But he told them that he was not interested in being the king, that God, in fact, was calling him to a religious vocation and he desired to be a hermit. And so, one day when he was in his early twenties, he dressed in his regal best, went to the Cathedral of Our Lady in Paris and there he laid down his crown and his sword and his fancy clothes. He put on the humble robe of a monk and he went off to be a hermit.
But as it often happens when God raises up somebody who is holy, it does not matter how much they want to be alone and be a hermit, God tends to bring people to them; they cannot live a hidden life. We see that with the early Fathers in the desert: the further they went out into the desert, the more people followed them. The more they wanted to be alone, the more people gathered around them. The same thing happened with Saint Cloud, and by the time he was twenty-nine, the people were actually begging the bishop to make him a priest so that he would be able to take care of them. The bishop acquiesced to that and made him a priest.
A few years later, his uncles who had wanted to kill him were reconciled to him. All of the things he had tried to give up - all of the power and glory and wealth and everything else - suddenly started coming back to him. His uncles started giving him lots of money and they started giving him land. He turned around and gave it all away. He took care of the poor with the money. He gave the lands to the bishop and took care of things in that way.
Finally, one day his uncles gave him another piece of land in the area that was called Nogent (in France, outside of Paris). He asked the bishop if it would be permissible to give the land to the bishop to build a hermitage in the poorest place that was in that area. The bishop gave him permission, and for the last several years of his life that was where he lived.
He restored the Church of Saint Martin and that is where he is buried. He was there for only about seven years and became the pastor to the people. He wanted to live a very austere and eremitic life, but as often happens, the people of the village that he was taking care of suddenly let the word out that he was there and others began gathering around him and there became a community. It was not his intent to found a religious community, nonetheless, a community of men gathered around him and he took care of the people from the village. He died in great sanctity at the age of thirty-eight.
He is buried in that place, which then bore his name: Saint Cloud. They changed the name of the town from Nogent to Saint Cloud. Of course, the way that this diocese got its name was that a man had come (and the city of Saint Cloud in France is built right on the river) and he stood here along the Mississippi and asked one day, "So how are things in Saint Cloud?" That was how the city, and thereby, the diocese received its name: by this one man asking a simple question and seeing the similarities of the wooded area along the river and asking how things were.
But we need to see how the holy patron of this diocese lived his life: Giving up all of the wealth and all of the glory and the honor that this world offers, he was willing and desirous to live a life of poverty, to live a life of humility, of solitude, of hiddenness. It is that example that we must learn from. He took what he had and he gave it to the poor. He tried to live his life entirely for God.
We hear in the first reading today from Sirach, that the life of one who is humble will be greater than that of a person who gives all kinds of things away, than a giver of gifts. While the poor may have liked Saint Cloud because he gave them lots of money, it was his humility that attracted the people, it was his holiness. Nobody will be attracted by pride. We will notice proud people, we will notice wealthy people. And they have lots of false friends: people who will hang around them because it appears that they have power, because they have wealth and some of these people want a share in that power and that wealth. But if things do not go very well, their friendship is gone very quickly. But for those who are humble, there will be lasting friendships. The most important friendship is that of God Himself.
We need to strive for lives of humility. This society does not uphold that in the least. This society says, "Look out for 'Number One'. Take care of yourself. Get more. Make a bigger house for yourself. Get a fancier car. Show off to your neighbors. Do whatever it is that you can to make sure people recognize you."
When I saw the reading this morning, I could not help but think of yesterday: I was walking along the river and there was a teenage kid who was riding by on his bicycle. He got about ten feet past me and decided to pop a wheelie and ride it for a while. I thought, "The only possible reason this kid could have had for doing that was to make sure that I noticed him, to show off a little bit." But isn't that the way that all of us are? We like to make sure people notice us. We like to be seen. Maybe we do not pop wheelies to ride them, but we have other ways to make sure that people see us. We want people to think well of us.
We need to strive instead for humility, to put away all the pride, all the worldliness, all the arrogance. As Our Lord says in the Gospel reading today: "If you lose your life, you will find it. But if you seek your life, you are going to lose it." We need to set ourselves aside and live for Christ because, as He asks, "What gain will a man have if he gains the whole world and loses his soul in the process?"
There is only one thing that is important: getting to Heaven. More stuff, more wealth, more pride, more selfishness is only going to lead us in the wrong direction; it makes us focus on the self and not on the Lord. The goal of our lives must be to get to Heaven. There is only one way to get to Heaven and that is Jesus Christ, and to serve Him with our whole heart and soul and strength. That is what we have to be about: striving to live lives of humility, striving to be hidden, striving to be small, trying to lose our life in this world so we can gain it forever in the next.
Or the opposite: We can look for our lives in this world; we can try to exalt ourselves here and we can live forever with the devil. The choice is ours. We want to live with God and we need to start in this world. You see, there are only two possibilities for eternity: We can focus on God or we can focus on ourselves. That is all the souls in hell do: they focus on themselves and they are miserable, bitter people. Or we can focus on God for eternity and we will be filled with joy.
That starts now. If we decide to do what our society tells us and focus on ourselves, we can be miserable and bitter, here and for all eternity. Or we can begin focusing on God in this life and we will find true joy and peace and happiness here and we will have that same joy and peace and happiness for all eternity. That is the example Saint Cloud gives to us: the life of humility, the life of focusing on God and not on self. Following the holy patron of this diocese, we need to learn that lesson: to focus on God now so that we will be able to focus on Him for all eternity.
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.