Monday May 27, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Eighth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (1 Peter 1:3-9) Gospel (St. Mark 10:17-27)
In the Gospel reading today, the disciples ask the pointed question: Who can be saved? The Lordís answer is very important and it is something that we need to be able to understand and apply to ourselves. That is, "For men, it is impossible." [It is] impossible for us to save ourselves. The salvation of our souls is something which is supernatural, and the most that we can do on our own is something which is natural. Consequently, we cannot save ourselves.
We know that anyway because all we need to do is think about our sinfulness and ask ourselves, "Can we forgive our own sins?" No. Would we ever be able to do enough to make up for our sins? No, our sins have infinite consequences; therefore, there is nothing we can do. Even if we decided to start today to try to make up for even one sin that we have committed, we will never be able to achieve the complete redemption of that sin by ourselves. Of course, we know that even in that attempt to make up for that one we are going to commit a lot more. Instead of making things better, all we do is add to it.
It is a necessity for us then to look beyond ourselves. That is not an easy thing for us to do. We know in our minds that our only means of salvation is the Lord Jesus Christ. Even though we acknowledge it, for the most part we do not live it because we have this idea that we somehow have to be able to earn it, that we have to do it ourselves. We cannot. It is something which is a gift. While we need to try to cooperate with the Lord, we will never be able to earn it or to deserve it or to do anything at all in our power which is somehow going to require God to give to us salvation. He gives it to us because He loves us.
When we look at what Our Lord said to this man in the Gospel reading today, we are told by Saint Mark that He looked at him and He loved him and then told him what he must do if he wants to be perfect. That, too, is difficult for us to hear. "Go and sell all that you have and give it to the poor. Then you will have treasure in Heaven. Then come follow Me," He says. Once again, [it is] something which strikes at the very core of our being (especially as Americans) because we think that we need so much. All that we really need is the Lord, and we need to trust. But that does not come easily to any of us.
This is why Saint Peter, in the first reading, reminds us that God in His great mercy toward us has given us a new birth, a new birth through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, unfading, and kept in Heaven - because if God gave it to us now we would squander it. We would think it was our own and we would think it was something we did and we would think we owned it. Just like all the other junk that we have accumulated, we would think it is ours. What good is it? God knows us well, so He does not just hand it to us and say, "Good. You take care of this and then letís see what happens." No, He keeps it - thanks be to Him - because it is waiting for us.
So too, then, as we celebrate as a nation this day in memory of those who have gone before us, it is with great hope that we come before the Lord, knowing that no matter what it is that our beloved dead have done, they could not earn salvation and knowing that God Himself has kept this gift of our salvation in Heaven waiting for them. Their part in the cooperation was to try to live their faith, to be repentant for their sins, and to look to the Lord. Their part was to recognize that, for them, it was not possible to save themselves but they were in need of Jesus Christ to do so. They lived what Saint Peter said. That is, they had to suffer through various trials but that was to prove the genuineness of their faith "which is more precious," he says, "than gold" - than pure gold.
So again, when we think about the riches that we hoard, thinking that we have all this stuff saved and set aside, just think what is truly important. Your faith is more precious than absolutely everything that you have accumulated. Even if you owned the entire world, your faith in Jesus Christ and in the salvation which He offers for your soul is more precious than everything material, everything of wealth and riches, everything that we can talk about. Your faith is more important than that.
And it is that faith which holds out for us the hope for our beloved dead that they have gone forth to a merciful judgment, that in the Mystical Body of Christ they are still united with us, that even though they have gone forth physically from this world, spiritually we are still united with them through the bonds of grace. Whether they are in Purgatory or in Heaven, they are saints and they are with us. They are praying for us just as we pray for them if they are in Purgatory. That is our faith as Christian people, and that is our hope as Christian people. It is not a faith in ourselves and it is not a hope in ourselves, but it is a faith and a hope which is rooted firmly in the love of God that is given to us through Jesus Christ.
That is why we come here today on Memorial Day, why we come before the Lord to plead for the souls of those who have gone before us to ask His mercy for them and to bring them into the fullness of life because we know that for even those who loved much, it was not possible for them to save their own souls. But for God, all things are possible. And so we beg Him today for His mercy and to bring them into the fullness of the inheritance - the undefiled and imperishable inheritance - that was kept in Heaven for us and for them, which is nothing other than God Himself.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.