Sunday October 14, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading I (2 Kings 5:14-17) Reading II (2 Timothy 2:8-13)
Gospel (St. Luke 17:11-19)
In the second reading today, Saint Paul says to Timothy: "This saying is trustworthy: If we have died with Him, we will rise with Him; if we persevere to the end, we will live with Him." Then he goes on to say: "If we deny Him, He will deny us; but if we are faithful (and even if we are unfaithful), He will always remain faithful because He cannot deny Himself."
What does that mean? Well, first of all, Saint Paul begins that reading by telling us to remember Jesus Christ raised from the dead. He says that is the Gospel that he preaches. That is the central point of all human history: the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Everything revolves around that. If He had not died for us, our sins would not be forgiven. If He had not risen from the dead, we would not have eternal life. And so, the very definition of who we are as Christian people revolves around this mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ.
That is how we need to learn to define ourselves. We need to look to Christ and we need to look to His resurrection because we would not be Christian if it were not for that. It is not something that we can keep at an arm's distance; it needs to get inside and it needs to shape our lives. It is precisely that paschal mystery that defines us, as Christian people. Therefore, everything we do and everything we are must revolve around that specific point of the death and resurrection of Our Lord.
It is precisely in that, then, that Saint Paul picks up on that next point of the denial of the Lord. Most of us, I do not suspect, are going to deny Him outright. That is, if somebody at work asked you, "Do you really believe in Jesus?" I do not suppose most of us would say, "No, no, no. I really do not believe that." Or if somebody said, "Do you really believe Jesus rose from the dead?" I doubt most of us would deny that He did. But the fact is that many Christian people deny Him by other words and, particularly, by their actions. Even though we might not deny Him absolutely outright, the way we live is, oftentimes, a denial of Jesus. It is that point that Our Lord made of giving Him lip service while our hearts are far from Him. He told us that those people are going to be condemned. So, if we say, "Yes, we believe," on one hand, but we refuse to live what we profess, we have no part in Him. We will stand before Him one day and we will knock and say, "Lord, Lord, open the door!" And He will say, "I tell you, I do not know who you are," because He told us if we deny Him before men, He will deny us before His heavenly Father. And that denial (our denial of Him) is much easier in action than it is in word.
But even if you think of our words, how often we deny the Lord! How often do we use the Lord's name in vain? We hear Christian people using Our Lord's name all the time. It is a very frequent problem. How can we, on one hand, say, "Jesus Christ is Lord," then turn right around and use His name as a swear word? That is a denial of the Lord. It is a violation of the commandment to never use the Lord's name in vain. How often do we use the titles of "God" and "Lord" and "Jesus" in vain? It is a denial of the Lord. How often does other filth spew forth from our mouths? Vile jokes and disgusting stories; sick and disgusting and vulgar words coming forth because we want to fit in with everybody else. It is a denial of the Lord.
If we are going to claim to be Christian people, especially if we are going to claim to be Catholic people, we need to live the faith we profess - and not only for one hour on Sunday morning when we come here and go through the motions of being at Mass. We need to enter into the Mass. We cannot keep what happens on the altar apart from us because then we come forward and have the audacity to receive Jesus into our own selves. It is not separate; it is within and it needs to shape our lives. So we need to look at how we live and how we act.
When Naaman the Syrian, this pagan man, comes to Israel, he comes bearing loads of gifts to give to the king to see if he can be healed. The king tears his garments because he says he recognizes that the Assyrian king is trying to start a war with him by making him some kind of a god who is able to heal him. Elisha says to the king: "Tell him to come to me so he will know that there is a God in Israel." When he is healed, he brings his gifts over to Elisha and tries to give Elisha all the gifts that he brought. Elisha says "no" because it was not Elisha who healed him, it was God who healed him. He keeps trying to give Elisha the gifts and Elisha refuses to take them. Finally, the man recognizes what it is that is happening. He says, "Fine. Then, let me take two mule-loads of soil back because I will no longer offer sacrifice or holocaust to any god but the Lord - because there is no god but the Lord."
There are loads of false gods, but they are precisely that: false. There is only one God and He is a Trinity of Persons and it is to Him alone that we offer worship and adoration. It is to Him alone that we are to offer sacrifice and holocaust. And the only holocaust we offer to Him is His Son, but we can also offer ourselves in union with that Holocaust. That is how we live our faith; that is how we are to live it everyday.
Just as Naaman would recognize the necessity to come back and then to offer sacrifice to the Lord when he saw what the Lord did in his life, how about us? We have not been healed from physical leprosy, but we have certainly been healed over and over again from spiritual leprosy, which is our sin. Every time we sin it is like leprosy of the soul. We come before the Lord and we confess our sins. Thanks be to God, you do not try to come back and offer gifts to the priest because the priest is the one who healed you; no, it is not the priest who healed you - it is God, working through that priest, who healed you. Offer your sacrifices and your gifts to the Lord, but recognize that He alone is God and it is Him who you serve.
That is what Elisha made very clear to Naaman, as well, when he said: "As the Lord lives whom I serve." Are those the kind of words that come out of our mouths? Probably not. For most people in America, the only time the word "Lord" is on their lips is when it is used in a wrongful manner. Certainly, it is not going to be a public pronouncement: "The Lord whom I serve." But why not? It is precisely what it ought to be if we are going to truly be honest about who we are. If we are going to live what it is that we profess, then we should be saying: "As the Lord lives whom I serve," because that should be everything that our lives revolve around: the Lord who lives, the Lord who has been raised from the dead, the Lord who has ascended into glory and sits at the right hand of the Father. That is the Lord whom we serve.
So, the real question is do we serve Him? Or are we merely giving Him lip service? Do we roll out of bed on Sunday morning and show up for Mass, then we walk away and all our actions deny Him for the rest of the week? Maybe we cannot say, "As the Lord lives whom I serve," because maybe we really do not serve Him very well.
The Lord also reminded us in the Gospel reading that there were ten lepers who were healed, but only one (who, once again, was a pagan) returned to give thanks. The rest were concerned about themselves. They were going to go to be pronounced "clean" because that was the way it had to be in the Old Testament times. If one had leprosy and was healed, first it was the priest who had to pronounce that, indeed, this was leprosy and then it was the priest who had to pronounce that they had been healed and were now clean. They were willing to go to the priest because that was the way they could be reintegrated into society. They could be pronounced "clean" and would no longer have to ring the bell before them and shout out, "Unclean! Unclean!" as they walked down the streets. So it was a selfish point. But one man recognized that he needed to come back and not merely show himself to the priest but glorify God. He threw himself at the feet of Jesus and he gave thanks.
How about us? How often do we really stop to recognize the gifts that Our Lord has given to us? And how often do we come to give Him thanks? It is true that we come to Mass, but are we really here to give Him thanks? Or are we simply doing the things that we know we are supposed to do, like the other nine lepers going through the motions because that is what they needed to do? Or are we here because we really want to give thanks to God and we really want to worship Him and adore Him? You see, we must be very careful that we do not deny Jesus Christ by our actions, by our failure to live the faith we profess, by keeping Him at an arm's distance and just merely going through the motions so that one day we will be able to stand before the Lord and say, "Hey, didn't I show up for Mass on Sunday?" He will say, "I tell you, I do not know who you are." If the only thing we will be able to present to the Lord on the Day of Judgment is that for one hour a week we took out a little bit of time for God, we are, in essence, denying Him.
If the Gospel that we preach and the Gospel that we live is the Gospel of Jesus Christ risen from the dead, then that must be our entire life. That is what it has to be about. Not one hour a week, not just going through the motions, but taking this in and allowing it to shape our lives. When Jesus looked at the leper who came back, it was not a matter that he had been healed of leprosy, but Jesus looked at him and said, "Your faith has saved you." The other nine were healed. It was not their faith that healed them, but this man, because he came back to give thanks to God for what had happened, made a public profession of his faith and that faith saved him.
Jesus has healed us and we need to live our lives, now, in a different manner, in a manner that is going to give glory and honor to Almighty God. It is in that that we will give public expression of our faith and that faith will save us. Then, we will be able to stand confident before the Lord on the Day of Judgment, knowing that we did not deny Him by our words or by our actions, knowing that everything we do and everything we say will glorify God. Then, and only then, will we be able to look back and say that we have persevered to the end. Therefore, we will reign with Him.
Saint Paul, when he talks about what he has endured, when he talks about how he can be confident on the Day of Judgment that now he will be able to receive this merited crown which awaits him, talks about how he had been whipped and beaten and shipwrecked and all these different things that happened to him - and he had remained faithful through it all. So, too, we must be the same way. Maybe we are not going to be whipped and beaten and shipwrecked for our faith, but we must be willing to live that faith publicly.
Jesus has already ignited a fire within you; do not put it under a bushel basket - let it shine. That means, bring it out into the darkness of the world. The darkness hates the light and you will not be well liked if you are going to live your faith. But the alternative is to put that faith under a bushel basket and deny that that fire is burning, deny that that light is shining; just be like everyone else out there and deny Jesus by your words and actions. If we deny Him, He will deny us. That is not what we need. We need to be faithful; we need to persevere to the end. Then, we will live with Him. That is what our Christian life is to be: to center around Jesus Christ raised from the dead, to die with Him in order to live with Him, to be faithful so that we will reign with Him, to persevere to the end so that we will reign with Him for all eternity.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.