Saturday February 23, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier First Week of Lent
Reading (Deuteronomy 26:16-19) Gospel (St. Matthew 5:43-48)
In the first reading today from the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses tells us that we have been made a people peculiarly the Lord's own. And because we are His own people, His chosen people, Moses tells us that we must follow His commandments and statutes. By following the commandments and the statutes of the Lord, we are going to find life. By following His commandments and statutes, we are going to be like God - we are going to act as God acts. The whole point of the law is that the people would become more like God. Already made in His image and likeness, now they had to act in His image and likeness. God gave them all the laws so that they would know how to live their lives.
But, of course, it is not an easy thing for us. We do not like being obedient: we have to die to ourselves, we have to be willing to say: "I will put my own self aside in order to do what someone else wants." But the wonderful thing for us is when we know that it is what God is asking, we know that it is the best, we know that it is perfect, that it will not violate us in any way. But still we do not like to be obedient.
But if we are going to be obedient to the commandments of God, if we are going to do what God has asked us to do, then we look, now, into the New Testament. [It is] not just a series of laws that we have to follow, but rather, it is something of the heart: Jesus tells us that we must love. We must love our enemies. We must pray for our persecutors. And He says that we must be perfected as our heavenly Father is perfect.
If you talk to any psychologist today, they would tell you that that is just crazy. "There is no way you are going to be perfect. That is perfectionism; that is a psychological problem; and you should not have to think about that." What Jesus is telling us is not something which is perfectionism. Perfectionism tends to lead to scrupulosity and it is a psychological problem. Jesus is not telling us to be a perfectionist; He is telling us to be perfect, to be holy, to be like God.
And the only way that is going to happen is when we learn to love. Scripture tells us "God is love." If we are made in the image and likeness of God, redeemed by Christ, and now we are members of Christ, children of God, we are to be like God in all things. We are to love. And it is easy to love those who love us - the Lord tells us that. He says, "What merit is there in that? Pagans do the same. Sinners do the same. Tax collectors do the same." So He says, "Love your enemies. Pray for your persecutors. That is how you are going to demonstrate that you are truly children of your heavenly Father."
Once again, that is not easy for us to do. It means going way beyond ourselves to actually love the people who hate us. That is not a simple thing for us to do. We naturally think of retaliation and vengeance. We are normally filled with anger and we want bad things, oftentimes, for the people who hate us. But God says that we need to desire the very best, even for the people who desire for us things that might be the worst. We need to pray for the people who make our lives difficult.
But part of what we must remember is that, in the spiritual life, things are very different from the way they are on the natural level. Spiritually speaking, it is the people whom, on the natural level, we would consider our enemies that are our best friends because they are the ones who help us more than any to grow in virtue. They are the ones who require us to practice patience and charity. They are the ones who help to direct us to God because they help strip us of the self. On the natural level, those are the people we want to run away from. But if we are going to take up the spiritual life and grow in holiness, God will put those difficult people right in our path because that is the only way we are going to grow. The people whom we would call our friends are not really going to help us grow that much because they do not challenge us the same way. They like the things that we like and we get along with them so it is not nearly so difficult, and it does not require the same kind of virtue.
And so, if we are going to be able to practice holiness, if we are going to love as God loves, he is going to put difficult people in our paths and then say to us, "Do not run away from them. Love them. Pray for them. Be kind to them. Treat them with charity." Then we will be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.