Tuesday November 20, 2001 (Audio) Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (2 Maccabees 6:18-31) Gospel (St. Luke 19:1-10)
As we near the end of the Church year, every year the Church gives to us readings that will point out to us some of the things that are going to happen toward the end of the world; they are readings regarding the end times. Yet, when we look at the readings today, they would not necessarily seem to be that way. They are not about the end of the world, they are not about apocalyptic events, yet, here they are in the readings a week before the end of the Church year. So we ask ourselves why this would be the case. It is a very simple reason. First of all, what the Church is trying to do is not only show us on the objective or the universal level what is going to be happening toward the end, but it is trying to show us also on the individual or the subjective level the way that it needs to be.
When we look at these two readings today, we see, first of all, Zacchaeus in the Gospel, climbing up the tree to be able to see the Lord. The Church is trying to make very clear to us that this needs to be the disposition of our soul: that we want to be with Jesus, that we want to be able to see the Lord, that we will go out of our way and do whatever it is that we have to do to be able to be one with Christ. Of course, one of the positive things about this, for at least most of us, is we are told that Zacchaeus is a sinner. The Lord came to a sinnerís home and that is where He wanted to stay and that is where He wanted to eat. The Lord reminds us, then, that He came to seek out and to find what was lost.
And so, it is not just a matter that He has come already and will come again for those who are advanced in holiness or for those who have never sinned in their lives; but rather, He has come also for those who are steeped in sin, for those who know that unfortunate and bitter aftertaste of sin and have to deal with that in their lives. It is for them that the Lord has come, and for those people who maybe sought themselves for so long - now they have to employ themselves in seeking the Lord, in being earnest about seeking the Lord. Just take even part of the effort that we maybe used to make in seeking sin and selfishness and pleasure and whatever it may be and apply that to seeking the Lord. Just think how holy we would be if we spent even part of the effort in trying to grow in holiness that we used to spend in trying to find sinfulness. That is the point, individually, that we need to be making: We need to be looking for Christ, we need to be seeking Him, we need to be solely focused on Him. We know that in the end, as we have seen in the Gospel readings over the days, there are going to be some saying "He is here" and "He is there" and some saying "I am He" so do not be fooled, do not be running around. Just seek the Lord with your whole heart.
Then, on that individual level once again, what we see in the first reading with Eleazar, this 90 year old man who is being forced to violate the law of God, is that he refused. Not only did he say, "Even if I would [only] seem to violate the law, even though I could bring meat of my own choosing that I could lawfully eat, I would give bad example," [but also], "and in so doing, I would not only give bad example to the young, but I am not going to be able to escape God: the Lord knows what I am doing, and if it is pretense, I am still going to have to answer to that." So Eleazar chooses, as we are told, a glorious death rather than the stain of defilement.
What the Church is also pointing out to us is that when the end times come things are not going to be pleasant for those who are going to be faithful to the Lord. It is not going to be an easy way. Rather, what we have to do if we are seeking the Lord wholeheartedly and if someone tries to make us violate the law of God is say "no" to that because our soul, our heart, is focused on Christ and we will not accept anything that is going to lead us away from Christ just so that we might be able to have something selfish, that we can hang on to this life for a little while but in so doing reject the Lord. That is the attitude the Church is showing us that each one of us needs to have: that willingness even to die rather than to sin, and the desire to see Christ and to be one with Him. That is what the attitude or the disposition of the soul must be. And it is not just to wait until the end of the world, but it is to be able to say, "This is what we need to be about now." None of us knows when the end of our own life is going to come, so we need to have that disposition always: to be seeking the Lord and to be willing to die for the Lord rather than to live for the self, no matter what form that takes. All that matters in this world is that we are seeking Christ because all that is going to matter in the next world is that we are one with Him forever.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.