Monday February 18, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier First Week of Lent
Reading (Leviticus 19:1-2, 11-18) Gospel (St. Matthew 25:31-46)
In the first reading today, it begins by telling us: Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy. We are made in the image and likeness of God, and God is holy. Therefore, being made in His image and likeness, God expects each one of us to be holy. Sometimes we sit back and try to rationalize our way around that by saying, "It's not possible for me to be holy. I'm too big of a sinner; I can't be holy." That is completely false. It is God's grace, not ourselves, that makes us holy. But it is [also] our cooperation with God. All the grace is there that is necessary for us to be holy. God has made a promise, and He will fulfill that. But He will not force us to be saints; He invites us. And He will help us. But because we have free will, He will not force us.
So He gives us, in the first reading from the Book of Leviticus, a whole series of things that we may not do if we are going to be holy. Some of them, I would suspect, are pretty obvious to all of us. But then, when it gets down to the bottom of the list, we begin to sweat a little because He says that we will not have hatred for our brother in our heart, that we are not to incur sin because of another, that we are to take no revenge and cherish no grudge against another person, and that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. Those are not quite so easy to do as things like "You shall not steal", "You shall not kill", and things like that. And so, we need to look at this because it is the Lord Himself who is laying this out and then tells us what it means.
In the Gospel, the Church also gives to us a positive side of it. It is not that "You shall notů" but it is what we shall do. The Lord tells us, with regards to the Judgment, that if we have done works of charity - for instance: clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming those who are strangers, visiting the sick or the imprisoned, and so on, all these various corporal works of mercy - [we] are going to enter into eternity with the Lord. It is those who have failed to do those works, Our Lord tells us, that are going to wind up going the wrong direction. If we are going to be like Christ, who did all of those things - the Lord Himself, who unites Himself with the least of His brothers - [we should do them too]. Certainly, if Jesus Himself were standing before us, we would all go out of our way to help Him. But when we fail to see Jesus in another human being, that is when we have failed to serve the Lord.
That is the real challenge. If you read any of the saints, they tell us that they can take care of the poor and they can deal with the people who are the most difficult specifically because in those people they see the Lord. We will know that we are becoming holy when we see the Lord in the most lowly and despised of people, when we serve the Lord in the people that we like the least, when we treat with charity the people that we would rather be angry at and hold a grudge toward. That is when we are going to be growing in holiness.
In the meantime, I suspect that most of us can see just how far we have to go. But, again, it is not impossible; the Lord is promising the grace. He has given a command; it is not just an idea - it is a command to be holy because He is holy. And He is not going to give us a commandment and then not give us what we need to be able to fulfill it. All the grace necessary to be saints is present for each one of us. All that is left for us is to cooperate.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.