May 22, 2002 (Audio) Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Wednesday of the Third Week of Ordinary Time
Reading I (James 4:13-17) Gospel (St. Mark 9:38-40)
St. James tells us today that our life is just a puff of smoke, and that we are here today, and we do not know what tomorrow is going to bring. Our plans that we like to be in complete control of, and we basically like to tell God what it is we are going to be doing, do not always work the way that we think that they ought to. St. James tells us then, that what we need to do is to begin to understand, that we have to look at life from the point of view of God. If the Lord wills, then this is what I will do, he says. Then he follows it up by saying, “for one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, it is a sin.” Now the context in which he puts that is, if we know that we should be looking at it from God’s point of view, and if it be God’s will that this is what I will do, if we do not do that, then we are sinning, because what happens then is we are boasting. We are trying to be in control. We are the ones who are going to dictate to the Lord, and to others what is going to happen. That is not necessarily what we are trying to do, but it is the reality of it.
Boasting, I think, has become the national pastime in America as well as a number of other places. We live in a country where one-upmanship is kind of the norm. We are always trying to do better than the next guy. We are always trying to make sure that they know, one way or the other, how wonderful we are. Some of us have managed to make this into such an art, that we can boast without people even realizing we are doing it. We make ourselves look or sound rather humble, while what we are really doing is boasting. We need to be very cautious of this.
Even in the Gospel reading, when Our Lord tells His disciples to allow somebody who is casting out demons in His name to continue to do so, we must balance that with the other Gospel passage where the man stands before the Lord on judgment day and says, “But did I not cast out demons in your name?” And the Lord says, “I tell you I do not know who you are.” In other words, if the Holy Spirit is going to do something, if we are seeking the will of God in our lives, and then we boast as though somehow this is something we are doing instead of what God is doing, there is going to be eternal punishment for such arrogance. We need to be very, very careful of that. Because we can run around and do things in the Lord’s name, but for arrogant reasons. It is for our own selfish end, so people see us, or so they think well of us or whatever it might be. That is a sin. It is not giving the credit where credit is due. It is not something that is ours, it is something that is the Lord’s.
That boasting, that pride and arrogance needs to go. St. Paul tells us that if we are going to boast, we must boast in the Lord. He goes so far as to say, his only boast is in the cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Now if that is what our life is about, then we are okay. Most of us, however, like to boast in our accomplishments, we like to boast in our money, we like to boast in what we own, we like to boast in whatever it is, but it is all about the self, it is not about the Lord. St. James makes clear to us that our focus must be the Lord and His will, not on ourselves. We need to die to self and live for God. We need to give the credit where the credit is due. We need to seek the will of God, and seek to do the will of God, rather than to try to tell God what His will ought to be in our lives. None of these things is easy, none of them comes naturally to us, but this is part of the spiritual life.
As we grow in the spiritual life there comes a point where we will have to make that decision. How much do we really want to live for God? How much to we really want to do His will? If we are going to boast, we know that if it is in ourselves, that we are sending ourselves right into eternal condemnation. With St. Paul then, we need to learn that if we are going to boast, boast in the Lord.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.