Friday October 19, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Romans 4:1-8) Gospel (St. Luke 12:1-7)
In the first reading today, Saint Paul tells us that we are justified by faith apart from works. That is the classic problem we have dealt with for the last 450 years: What exactly does that mean? Many non-Catholic Christians believe that means that we do not have anything to do with our salvation. In other words, even if we do the best of things, it is not going to get us any closer to God. But that is not true at all. It is not what Saint Paul is talking about.
What he is talking about are the works of the law, and if you just go through the motions. For example, if you brought a pagan friend with you to Mass and the person either did not want to be there or they were just interested in what happened at Mass, they did not have any faith in the Mass but came and sat in, and then on the Day of Judgment said, "Well, didn't I go to Mass once?" that is not going to save him because he had no faith. Saint Paul is saying that we need to have faith in order to be saved; not just going through the motions of the faith, but actually having faith. Then, when we have faith, we act upon it.
That is precisely what the Lord is telling us in the Gospel reading, as well. He says, "Be careful of the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy." That is, be careful of going through the motions but not really believing it, not really having the heart set upon the Lord but making it look good. That is hypocrisy. What we need to do is put our faith in God and then act upon that faith. It is, again, those three theological virtues: Once we have faith, hope builds upon it; and then, that building upon hope is the charity. And so we have faith, we believe; then, we have trust and the hope that God is going to take care of everything and provide, therefore, we act. We act upon the faith and the hope and we act out of charity, out of love for God and love for neighbor. That is faith in action.
Saint Paul says that God, through faith, can credit it as justice to any person who believes but is not even doing anything yet. That is true. The person can be justified without having yet acted. But once a person has faith, then it is required that we act; that we act on faith, and that we act in charity. That is the way it needs to be. It is not just that we think we have faith so we can sit around and do nothing. That is not what he is saying.
At the same time, he is not saying, "Just go out and do things with no faith." If that is the case, when you see some philanthropist throwing dollar bills off a float in a parade someplace and the guy might be a total atheist, you can say, "Well, look. He is doing nice things for the poor." No, he is not. He is looking out for himself: He wants to be seen; he wants to be noticed. There is no faith in what he is doing and there really is not much charity in what he is doing, either. That kind of thing is not going to bring salvation.
If, on the other hand, somebody has faith in Christ and truly desires to help the poor and makes monetary donations to the poor, that will be a matter of justice and a matter of charity because you are acting on your faith. It is not because you thought you would do a nice thing; but rather, you are doing the right thing for the right reason: out of love for God and love for neighbor. That is the point that we need to be able to understand: It is not the externals.
The Lord even made that clear in many passages. We heard the other day that the Pharisees washed the outside of the cup but not the inside, but He who made the inside also made the outside. The Lord also says in another place that it is not what goes into a man that makes him impure but what comes out - because it is what is in the heart [that matters].
Well, it is the same thing. It is not the externals; it is not looking good that is going to get us into Heaven - it is what is in the heart that is going to get us to Heaven. And because we believe, we act upon that faith. We do what is right, externally, but for the right reason. Not to look good, not to impress people, not to be noticed, but because of what it is that we believe.
We believe in Jesus Christ, therefore, we act as Christ acts. We believe in the faith that we profess, therefore, we act upon that faith. That is where the difference is. We are not trying to be hypocrites. Now, that is not to say that we do not sin and that we do not do some foolish things - we do. But then we go to Confession. And it is not just doing a rote exercise, but it is because we recognize that we have violated God and His precepts and we want to be reconciled - once again, acting on faith. That is what is required of us: to look first at faith, to look at what it is that we believe, what we profess, and then, based upon that faith, to shape our lives around the Person in whom we profess that faith - and that is Jesus - so that His life will be lived in our lives and our faith will be seen in action.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.