Sunday October 7, 2001 (Audio) Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time
Reading I (Habakkuk 1:2-3; 2:2-4)
Reading II (2 Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14 ) Gospel (St. Luke 17:5-10)
Saint Paul, in the second reading today, says to Timothy: "Stir into flame the gift that you received when I laid my hands upon you." Each one of us has had hands laid upon us. On the day that we were confirmed we received the fullness of the Holy Spirit. On the day of Baptism we received those seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, but not yet in their fullest form; it is only in Confirmation that that takes place. The word "confirmation" means "with strength" - it is a strengthening of what happened at Baptism. Confirmation allows us to live an heroic Christian life, to be able to live our faith in an extraordinary way.
That is something that is completely necessary today. Even just to live an ordinary Christian life in this society has become extraordinary. To just be a good Catholic is something that has almost become heroic in our day and age, and it is precisely what is needed. As I say over and over again, God raises up saints where He needs them. And since we live in the most sinful society that has ever walked the face of this earth, God is going to raise up the greatest saints ever known to humanity, right in our day.
Each one of us can be a part of that. To be a great saint is not something that is beyond your capacity to do. By yourself, yes it is; but with the help of the Holy Spirit who dwells within you, as Saint Paul reminds us, we have that ability. It is there in that latent form, but it is certainly there to be able to help us to live that heroic Christian life. That is why Saint Paul says, "Stir it into flame." It is there like a spark; but it needs, now, to be worked into a flame, just as we would have to do if we were going to light a fire in the wintertime. You want to make that flame a large fire. It starts out as just a little, tiny fire. You need to blow on it and you need to work with it a little bit. You need to get that fire going.
That is why in the Gospel reading today Our Lord says to His disciples, when they ask to have their faith increased: "If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you would be able to say to this tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it would obey you." Now, I don't know about you, but I have not seen many trees moving around and being planted in other places recently, which probably tells us that our faith is relatively small. And so we need to look very seriously at this because we live in a day and age, and in a society, that is opposed to faith.
In the last couple of weeks, we have seen "God Bless America" all over the place and, suddenly, people are starting to demonstrate that there is some faith there. This is more than we have seen for well over 40 years. But nonetheless, it is a society that is at odds with faith and, indeed, which is completely opposed and has full intent of destroying faith. So it is not enough to have faith the size of a mustard seed. In fact, it is clearly not enough to have faith less than the size of a mustard seed. We need to make that faith grow.
Just as we saw with the fire, with the mustard seed you have to plant it. You have to water it; you have to hoe it; you have to take care of it so it becomes that shrub that is big enough for the birds of the sky to build their nests in. Having just the seed is not enough; we need to do something with it. And so the Lord is calling each one of us now to increase that faith.
The direction that this society is going will require it. We can understand clearly the words of Habakkuk when he says, "Lord, why do you let me see destruction? I call out, 'Violence!' There is ruin all around me! And yet, it seems that God does not hear the prayers. Why is it that He is allowing some unfortunate things to happen?" The Lord says to Habakkuk, "You must have faith. The righteous person - by faith - will hold firm and will live. Continue to look forward, and even if it seems that it delays, the vision will have its time; it will have its fulfillment; it presses forward." Every single thing that God has promised will happen - we simply need faith and we need hope because things continue to happen.
As things become more difficult and worse in our society, Christian people are either going to do one of three things:
They are either going to give in to it and become like everybody else, which has been happening rather frequently over the last number of years. Because we do not see extraordinary things happening from God, what people have been doing is giving up on their faith and they have been throwing themselves headlong into this secular society.
There is another possibility that people will just simply despair. It is not necessarily that they will get into the secularism, but they are giving up on their faith. And all that they have left is themselves. I think we all know well enough that there is no hope in the self. Our help is in God, and that is the only place. So we need to keep that hope focused on the Lord. We must be very careful not to despair as we look around at the difficulties; but we must remain rooted in prayer and we must look to the Lord, knowing that His promises will be fulfilled and the vision still has its time. But it will happen in God's time, not in ours.
The third possibility is that we will fall back upon our faith, that we will rely on that faith, that we will have trust in God, that faith will be able to grow. As Our Lord reminded us when He talked about the parable of the seed that was sown, He said, "If it is sown on good ground, it is going to increase the yield 30 and 60 and 80 fold." That is what He is looking for in us. We need to prepare our souls so that the Word of God which is planted within, so that the Holy Spirit who dwells within, is going to have freedom to grow, is going to be able to lead and to take over in our lives. That is what the Lord is requiring of us today.
For too long, as Christian people, we have been able to sit back rather comfortably and live just like everyone else. That is traditionally not the Christian way of doing things. In the early years of Christianity there was persecution. In order to be a Christian, everybody knew that they could die any day, any moment. If they were found out to be Christian people, they would be thrown to the lions or they would be beheaded or they would be burned or whatever the case might be. These people did not water down their faith. They did not become like everyone else. The dichotomy between being Christian and being secular was exceedingly clear. And thousands lost their lives for it.
When Christianity became legalized, back in 313, suddenly people became Christian as the politically correct thing to do. All of a sudden, being worldly and being Christian were melded together. The true Christian said, "This cannot happen. You cannot be Christian and be worldly at the same time." They decided that being Christian had become a little too easy. So they went off to the desert to try to live a truly Christian life in a very rigorous way, relying on God, having solid faith, trusting completely in the Lord to provide for what they needed because it had become too easy to be a Christian.
We live in that kind of a society now. It has become far too easy to call oneself a Christian without actually living it. We hide our Christianity under a bushel basket, and we do not allow that flame to grow and to be able to give light to all the people around. It is hardly giving light to our own souls because we have decided that we want to become like everyone else, rather than wanting to become like Jesus Christ. We have the privilege of living in a time where being Christian cannot be like the people who want to be living in the world. To be Christian cannot be like being secular. The dichotomy, once again, is becoming so evident, so clear, that we have a choice to make. And there is only one way that we are going to be able to live it: That is to be able to stir into flame the gift of the Holy Spirit that was given, to make that seed that was planted within us grow. That means we need to work.
If we think about what happens in our own lives, we can apply the latter half of the Gospel to ourselves. It is an amazing thing, these days, that if we simply do the minimum we think that we are being heroes. Sometimes we go home and we are so pleased with ourselves because we actually prayed! Or we are so impressed with ourselves because we actually did an act of charity! Or we are so pleased with ourselves because we did not fall into a particular sin! We think that we ought to be rewarded for that. So the Lord says, "Do you think that a servant coming in from the field should think that the master would say, 'Here, you have done such a wonderful job, sit down at table and I'll take care of you!' Will he not say instead, 'You put on the apron and wait on me. You can eat afterward.' Should the servant think that he should be rewarded for doing only what was required?" Look at what the Lord requires of us: to live the Commandments; to love - even our enemies and our persecutors; to forgive those who do wrong to us; to strive for holiness; to be people who are steeped in prayer and good works; to allow our light to shine so brightly before men that when they see our good works, they will give glory to our Father in Heaven. That is what He is asking of us. Should we think that we are doing something heroic if we are doing only what has been asked?
How many of us are really living that heroic life of the Holy Spirit? Of how many of us, would our family and friends say, "This is a saint. This person is living his or her Catholic faith so well that I have never met a more holy person in my life. This is a true saint among us." ? Could that be said of you? If that is not the case, then we are not yet stirring fully into flame that fire of love that the Lord has put within us. Indeed, we are useless servants - we have not even done what we were obliged to do.
So we need to work at this. We need to make that choice, and we need to make it quickly because the direction this society is going is getting faster and going the wrong direction. We need to run as fast as we possibly can the other way. We cannot sit there in the middle, thinking: "It doesn't matter. I can just kind of hang here in the middle somewhere and I'll be okay." You are going to get crushed if you do that. You need to make a choice: Are you going to go with the world and immerse yourself in the ways of the world, or are you going to go with Jesus Christ? You cannot stay in the middle any longer. Make a choice. Get off the fence. Choose today whom you will serve: the gods of this world, or the God that Jesus Christ has revealed to us. That is a choice we must make.
Even if today it does not seem like it is so imperative quite yet, we must understand that the foundation must be laid for what is to come. Make the choice now. Choose whom you are going to serve. It is imperative and it ultimately comes down to eternity: Which direction do you want to spend your eternal life? Where do you want to go forever? The choice is made in this life. If we stay in the middle we are not going to be able to survive. We either have to immerse ourselves in the world (and we know the direction that is going to lead forever), or we need to choose to live an heroic Christian life.
Stir into the flame the gift that has been given to you when the bishop laid his hands upon you, when the Holy Spirit came to dwell upon you and within you in His fullness. Do not put that flame under a bushel basket or it is going to go out. Let that flame of your Christian life shine so that people will see it. Let your good works give glory to our heavenly Father. Live the Christian life that Jesus Christ is calling you to live. Be a servant of Christ and live your Christian life in an heroic way. That is not an option; it is becoming very quickly an absolute necessity. If we are going to survive in our faith, it must grow and it must grow quickly. It will only grow quickly when it is being used, and under persecution. That day is approaching fast, and the choice is entirely ours. Choose today whom you will serve.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.