The Remnant Seeks Its Refuge in Jesus Christ
Sunday February 3, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Fourth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading I (Zephaniah 2:3; 3:12-13) Reading II (1 Corinthians 1:26-31 )
Gospel (St. Matthew 5:1-12a)
We all know that the Christian life is contrary to the life that this world presents. Today, in the readings, we see this in a most stark and clear manner. Saint Paul, for instance, in the second reading that we heard today, tells us that not many of us were wise, that not many of us were considered to be of royal blood or high-born. Most of us would be lowly; most of us would be considered among those that the world would not necessarily consider the great ones. Yet we are the ones that God has chosen. Saint Paul says that God chooses the weak to shame the strong. He chooses, rather, those who are foolish to put to shame those who are considering themselves to be wise. God chooses the lowly; He chooses the despised of this world to bring to nothing those who thought that they were something.
So you see the task which God has put before each one of us. It is not to be puffed up with pride thinking that we are something simply because we have been chosen. We have to remember that we were chosen because we were not something impressive, because we were the lowly ones, because we were the foolish ones; that is why God chose us. Now most of us, because of the society we live in, when we hear talk like that we would naturally recoil and think: "Not me. I'm not weak. I'm not foolish. Who does Saint Paul think that he is talking like that?" If that is the reaction, then what we have to be able to do is to say, if nothing else, that we are proud. And that needs to go because we read in the first reading today that we are to seek humility and to seek righteousness. The prophet Zephaniah tells us that on the day of God's anger there will be a remnant that will be saved, but it will be a people who are lowly; it will be a people who seek the truth. He tells us that no lie is going to come from their mouths, that they will find their refuge in the Name of the Lord. If we think that we are something, if we think that we have some kind of power in and of ourselves, if we think that we have ability of ourselves, then we rely on ourselves or on wherever it is that we think we have the power - whether that is our money, our position, our material goods, whatever it might be. Instead of relying on the Lord, instead of calling on Him, we simply look to ourselves because we do not think that we need Him.
Now, obviously, all of us sitting here would say, "No, I do need the Lord." But the reality is, if we look at our day-to-day existence, many of us probably do not think about the Lord very often; many of us probably do not call on His Name often throughout the day. Most of us probably do not seek our refuge in the Lord, but rather, we seek our refuge in anything and everything other than the Lord, most often. You can ask yourself: When you feel stressed, do you turn to pray? When you are feeling attacked, do you turn to Our Lord? When you are feeling lowly or lonely or despised, do you turn to the Lord? Many of us, in answer to those things, would probably say that we call someone else on the phone, we turn on the TV or we eat. We turn to material things; we look to all kinds of other things other than God. We do not necessarily seek our refuge in the Lord.
What we need to strive for is true humility. There is not one single individual in Heaven who is not humble, not one. There is not one single person in Heaven who sought refuge in himself or herself. There is no one in Heaven who did not seek the Lord. We need to be very clear about that. We have a choice to make. And the choices that we make in this world are also eternal choices. I have asked many times from this pulpit: Do you want to serve the Lord? Or do you want to serve some other god? Most of us are not going to bow down before idols; that is, little gods made of wood, silver, or gold. But there are lots of idols in this society that many, many, many people bow down before, that many people put before God. We need to choose whom we are going to serve.
Jesus tells us in the Gospel what the life of the Christian person is to look like. We are to be poor in spirit. We are to be mourning over sin. We are to be meek. We are to be lowly. We are going to be persecuted. We are going to be slandered. He makes all those points in the Beatitudes and calls those people blessed. Now that is not what anybody who lives a worldly life would call blessed. But the Lord does.
And so, we need to ask ourselves: Are we seeking our reward in Heaven? Or are we seeking our reward here on earth? Remember, if we go out of our way to seek the attention of others Our Lord tells us: "You have already received your reward." I think the same, then, can be said when we look at the Beatitudes. If we are seeking the things of this world - the comforts and the riches and all of the things that this world affords - if we are trying to be wise in the ways of the world, if we are trying to fit in, we have already received our reward, which means that we are not going to receive it in the end. We will stand before God on the Day of Judgment and He will say, "I do not know you."
The goal of our Christian life is to be conformed to Jesus Christ, indeed, even more: to be transformed into Jesus Christ. Jesus was poor and meek and lowly. Jesus sought to serve others. He gave of Himself, poured everything out for our sake. He was persecuted. He was slandered. And that is what is going to happen to us if we want to follow Him. That is the choice we have to make. Do we want to be like Jesus? Or do we just want to keep Jesus at a far distance and give Him lip service while our lives and our hearts are far from Him? The choice is entirely ours.
The day of God's wrath is drawing near. There will be a remnant that will be saved through it. And it will be a remnant only of those who seek refuge in the Name of the Lord. Do not think that when that day comes you are suddenly going to seek refuge if it is not what you are accustomed to already. It is something that we have to do every day because then when that day comes we will be accustomed to calling upon the Name of the Lord. When that day comes, whether it is the day of our own individual judgment or a day of the Lord that will befall this world, it is not going to frighten us; it is not going to be a problem for us if we are accustomed to being humble and righteous and seeking our refuge in the Lord. But if instead we seek pride, power, selfishness, if we are seeking our refuge in wealth, materialism, position, or anything else, then when the day of the Lord comes upon us we will not be seeking the Lord, but we will be seeking all the other things.
It is absolutely essential that we strive for humility, that we strive for righteousness, and that we call upon the Name of the Lord. It is not something that is just a good idea. It is not something that [we can say], "Well, of course, we would hear it in church. But that is what we hear in church; we don't really have to live it or pay attention to it." It is not something that we can compartmentalize and say, "Well, that's on Sunday morning, but the rest of my life I don't have to pay attention to that," because one day each one of us will stand before the Lord and the choice we make now is the choice we will make then. Seek righteousness, seek humility, and seek refuge in the Name of the Lord.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.