Sunday February 10, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Fifth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading I (Isaiah 58:7-10) Reading II (1 Corinthians 2:1-5)
Gospel (St. Matthew 5:13-16)
Our Lord tells us in the Gospel reading today that our light must shine so brightly before men that when they see our good works, they will glorify our heavenly Father. We have looked many times at the necessity of accepting and believing every single thing that the Church teaches. We live in a society which has watered down the truth. It does not want the truth. Everyone wants to be their own arbiter of truth, deciding what is right and what is wrong for themselves, deciding what they want to do and what they do not want to do, to accept what they want from what the Church teaches and to reject the rest. It is what these days is known as "Cafeteria Catholicism". They will pick and choose whatever it is that they want and they will ignore the rest.
But today we get at the very essence of what it is to be Christian and Catholic, and that is charity. It says in the First Letter of Saint John, 4:8 - "God is love." Period. God is love. We are all made in the image and likeness of God so we are all made in the image and likeness of love. More than that, each one of us is baptized into Jesus Christ; consequently, Our Lord wishes to live His life in us and through us. God is also truth. So it is necessary for us to accept all the truths of the Church, but it is also imperative that we live it. It is not enough just to sit back and self-righteously say, "I believe in all the things that the Church teaches, but I don't do them."
That is one of the difficulties that people in this particular parish have had. Over the last 40 years, the people here have been in a defense mode, hanging on tenaciously to the Faith. Praise God that is the case. Anyone throughout the Twin Cities knows that this is the most orthodox parish in the diocese, and for a number of dioceses around us. But the thing that lacks in this parish is charity. Truth with charity is the balance that Our Lord is looking for. If you go into many of the Protestant churches or if you go into a number of the Catholic churches around the diocese, what you will find are many people who often do not know their faith, people who reject various critical teachings of the Church, but yet people who are very kind and very charitable in their demeanor. When we look, sometimes, at ourselves, what we are going to find is that, while we accept in our heads all the things the Church teaches, we do not always live them very well. We suffer from self-righteousness sometimes, thinking ourselves better than others because we know what the Church teaches and we believe it. But what good is that going to do if we do not live it, if we do not put it into practice?
It is not merely a matter of knowing doctrine - we must know that; I am not in the least bit suggesting that we can water that down - but we must recall that at the center of it all is the teaching on charity. We must take that truth that we know in our heads and we must put it into action in our lives. That is the balance: the truth with charity. One side wrong leads to self-righteousness; the other side leads simply to a self-fulfillment of sorts: of doing nice things, but very often for one's own sake. Either way it is selfishness. Charity is selflessness. It is seeking the good of the other without being concerned for one's self. It is to be so rooted in the truth that we are not afraid we are going to lose it when we put it into practice. But, in fact, what we are going to do is increase it.
And so, in the first reading today, we hear things like "if we would remove oppression and false accusation and malicious speech from our lives, then our light will shine forth; if we give some of our bread to the hungry, some of our clothing to the naked, if we shelter the homeless and the orphan," the Lord says through the prophet Isaiah, "then will our prayer be heard, then will God answer us quickly." It is not simply a matter of knowing the Faith; it is a matter of living the Faith that we know. Both are a necessity. We cannot have one without the other. They are not mutually exclusive and they cannot be mutually exclusive. Jesus Christ was not truth without love. Nor was He love in the sense of feelings without truth. Jesus Christ is love and He is truth. Love is not about feelings; it is not about nice emotions. It is about giving. And it is about giving when it hurts, giving when it is not easy, giving when we do not really feel like it, but also giving with the proper disposition - not grudgingly. Saint Paul made that very clear and says, "God loves a cheerful giver." So we need to look very, very intently at our own dispositions, our own attitudes, and our own lives.
I have asked many times, "Do you believe what the Church teaches? Do you believe every single point of what the Church teaches?" We are not truly Catholic if we do not. Now we need to look at the practical part. Do we live those truths that we believe? Do we put them into practice in our lives by the way that we treat others, by the way that we give example to others? That is what Our Lord tells us: that we are the salt of the earth, that we are the light of the world. It is not a matter that we can have that light shining within our heads, or even within our own hearts, but cover it up because we are afraid that the little candle we have burning there is going to be blown out by the least little wind that comes our way. The light of Jesus Christ is burning brightly; it is a blaze, not a flicker. And our light is to shine beyond ourselves. It is not enough for the light of Christ to shine in us; it must shine through us. The Lord tells us that He places us in a place where the light will brighten everything around us. We are "like a city set upon a mountain," He says, "that cannot be hidden."
The Lord did not light this fire within your life so that you could cover it up and keep it for yourself. Imagine what will happen on the Day of Judgment if we have done just that. We will stand before the Lord and say, "I knew that You were a difficult taskmaster, so I took the talents that You gave me and I buried them in the ground. Here they are, with no interest, with nothing having been done with them, but I saved it all for You." If I recall correctly, I think He said something to the effect of "You worthless, lazy lout!" Not exactly what we want to hear on the Day of Judgment, simply because we guarded the truth but did not do anything with it, buried it so that nobody else could steal it, but did not invest it so it could grow.
The Lord wants what He has given us to come back with a return. What are we doing with the truth that He has given to us? Are we allowing that light of Christ to shine through us, bringing the truth to others but putting it into practice with charity? Not beating people over the head with the truth, but being able to demonstrate the truth, showing the beauty of the truth by living it. Not being self-righteous and trying to show that we know more than somebody else, but being humble and living the truth and showing people the beauty of the truth in its lived-out reality. That is being the light of the world. That is being the salt of the earth.
When you put the salt on the food, it does not sit on the plate separate; it begins by being on the food, and then it infiltrates into the food. The Lord has put us out in the world, not to be separate from everybody, but to be in the world and to shine in the world. So we must be very careful that we do not fall into self-righteousness, into pride or arrogance of any form, thinking that we have it and nobody else does, thinking that we know and therefore we just need to pull ourselves apart from everybody else and hang on to what we have. The Lord wants souls to be saved, and they are not going to be saved because we did not go out there and show them the truth. They are going to be saved only by us being in the world and infiltrating every element of the world and letting the light shine in the darkness.
In our world today, that should be the easiest possible task because the world is enveloped in a deep darkness. In the darkest night, even the smallest light becomes obvious and shines brightly for everyone to see. If people do not know that we are Catholic by the way we live our lives, then our light is not shining very brightly. We need to be rooted in prayer - it is the only possible way - so that we can come to know Jesus and love Jesus so deeply and so profoundly that we will throw off the bushel basket that has been put over the light that He has lit within us. We will have no choice when we are in love with Jesus Christ: We will bring that love out into the world and our light will shine brightly. And it will be evident that it is not us, with our own effort and our own self-righteousness, but that it is the Lord who is working in us and through us. They will see the works that we do; they will recognize the truths that we preach and that we hold; and they will give glory - not to us - but to our heavenly Father.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.