Monday November 5, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Romans 11:29-36) Gospel (St. Luke 14:12-14)
In the first reading today, we hear about the mystery of God's mercy. It is a mystery indeed. It is something that is so difficult for most of us to grapple with that it is difficult for us to even accept it: God has allowed us to become disobedient in order to show us His mercy.
If you think about what happens in our lives, most of us struggle even with the idea that our sins are forgiven, that God could really love us so much that He would forgive even small sins. When we really stop to think about the gravity of even the smallest little imperfection, when we look at God and we see even the smallest thing in light of God, then we begin to look and see the biggest things. We see just how horrible they really are. And when we look at those things, then we tend to look back at ourselves and we get down on ourselves and we think that we cannot be forgiven because our sins are so big, and so on. We look around and we see all the trouble in people's lives, in the world, and, again, we get frustrated. We sometimes even get angry as we look at it. Unfortunately, sometimes we can even get self-righteous when we look at it all, thinking how much better off we are than everyone else.
But we need to always look back at our own disobedience and recognize that it is precisely because of our disobedience that we can understand God's mercy. Does that mean that He wanted us to be disobedient? Obviously not. But it's one thing to be able to love somebody; it's another to prove that love when your love has been violated or when the person has done something that is completely undeserving of love. Then, when you continue to love that person anyway, that is when they begin to really believe deeply in your love, to have total confidence in the love that you have for them. When we look at our own sins, all the ways that we have offended God, and then we experience His mercy, that is when we can really understand and believe deeply in the mercy of God.
When we listen to some of the saints, or even just some of the people in our own day who go around and talk about the mercy of God, the ones that we proclaim the most are the ones who sinned the most. One who comes immediately to mind in our own day is someone like Father John Corapi, who has had a tremendous impact on the people of America - thousands of conversions. One of the stories he tells is when he goes to prisons and talks to the prisoners, who obviously are there because of what they have done, and after his talk some of the prisoners would say, "Well, if God can have mercy on you then he can certainly have mercy on me because I've never done anything like what you did!" You see, we look at Our Lady and we look at a Saint Therese and others, who never committed a mortal sin - Our Lady, never even a sin - and we can say, "Oh, yeah. Of course God loves them, but me?" Well, then we look at a Saint Augustine or look at a Saint Ignatius or look at a Saint Mary Magdalene or look at whomever you wish and say, "If God can be merciful to those people, then He can be merciful to me as well."
And we still have trouble accepting it. It is only in the face of our own sinfulness [that we see God's mercy]; or, in this case, that Saint Paul, looking at the sinfulness and the disobedience of the Gentiles and then looking at the disobedience of the Jewish people, can talk about the mercy and that God has put everyone into disobedience in order to show mercy to all. What a mystery. We would think, naturally, that it would go the other way: If God really wanted to show us how much He loved us, He would just take away our ability to sin - then we could love Him the way we are supposed to and wouldn't that be wonderful! That would require taking away free will and then we could not love Him the way we were supposed to. But only when we have experienced His mercy will we be able to love Him as we ought.
That is something that we need to ponder deeply in prayer: the mercy of God, the mystery of forgiveness, this mystery of the love of God for sinners, for people who have violated Him and yet who continue to be loved by Him. Only when we recognize how much we have been loved and how much mercy God has shown will we be able, then, to return that love and be merciful to others. But above all, it is only in the face of that mercy that we will be able to be absolutely and totally confident in the love and the mercy of God. That is what we need to have. Most of us are not confident in God's love and so we need to understand that mercy.
Go to prayer. Simply look at your sinfulness and then look at God and wonder how it is that you can receive Him, how it is that you can even pray to Him with the sins that you have committed. Then understand that it is only because of His love. Rather than saying, "Oh, I should just quit because look at what I have done," go to the other extreme: Rejoice in His mercy and walk with confidence because of His mercy - because of His love.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.