Thursday January 10, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Week After Epiphany
Reading (1 John 4:19-5:4) Gospel (St. Luke 4:14-22a)
In the Gospel reading today, we hear that passage about Our Lord going to the synagogue in His own hometown of Nazareth and preaching to the people that the words of the prophet Isaiah had been fulfilled in Himself: that He was anointed with the Holy Spirit, that He is the One who has come "to bring liberty to the captives, freedom to the prisoners, sight to the blind...and to announce a year of favor from the Lord". The people, of course, had been anticipating the Messiah; they had been waiting for Him, and now He had come to them. They liked the discourse that came from His lips. But when He got a little bit clearer about what His mission was, they rejected Him because He told them that they were going to have to change. He called them to a greater repentance and He told them that the way they had anticipated the Messiah was not the way He was going to be. Then they led Him to the brow of the hill upon which this town was built and wanted to throw Him over. And so, as long as He was saying what they wanted to hear they thought that it was rather wonderful.
The same happens with us. When we hear things like our commandment is that we are to love God, well, that sounds rather nice. Then, when Saint John says, "Anyone who claims to love God but hates his brother is a liar," that stings us to the heart; we do not like to hear it. Or when Saint John reminds us that if we are going to love God we must also love all those begotten of God, sometimes that is a difficulty for us.
He goes on to tell us that the power that has overcome the world is our faith. And that is where we recognize that we have the exact same problem as the people from Nazareth - it lies with our faith. We have this romantic idea about what faith is to be and what love of God is to be and what love of neighbor is to be. When we find out that is not necessarily what God wants, we get angry; we get disillusioned because it is not the way we thought it ought to be. And so, we need to go to God and we need to ask Him what it is supposed to be. How are we to love Him? Saint John tells us that we know we love God when we keep His commandments. And the commandment - it is the difficulty - is to love: to love God and to love neighbor. That is what it all comes down to: always seeking the good of the other, always giving, always pouring the self out, doing all of these things that we know we are supposed to do, but do not come easily to us.
We have these ideas that as long as we believe in Jesus, this is the way that [our] life ought to be and this is what is going to happen. Instead, He tells us: "If you are going to believe in Me, you are going to have to take up your cross and you have to be crucified with Me." Well, that is not the kind of faith that we thought we wanted, so we get upset. We like the appealing discourse, but we do not like it so much when it comes down to having to put it into practice and when He calls us to a deeper conversion.
So we need to look at this faith of ours because it is that, and only that, which is going to overcome the world. It is only our faith in Jesus Christ that is going to help us to overcome all the weaknesses and struggles and difficulties of our lives. We each need to look to the Lord and we need to ask Him how He wants us to follow Him, what it means to love Him, what it means to have faith in Him, and what that is going to look like in practice. And then we need to be willing to change our lives. Not to keep it at an arm's distance and like the appealing discourse that we hear and walk away saying, "Wasn't that nice?" But we need to let it into our hearts and we need to allow it to change our lives.
That, and only that, is what will overcome the world and bring us to union with Him. That is what He desires for us. That is what love for Him is all about: becoming one with Him. Not keeping Him away and thinking how nice it would be, but doing it in reality: letting the Lord into our hearts and placing ourselves into His heart and seeking to truly love Him, to be one with Him in all things. That is true love of God, and following from that will be true love of neighbor. Then our faith will be put into practice. It will be seen in love and it will conquer the world.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.