Monday July 15, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Isaiah 1:10-17) Gospel (St. Matthew 10:34-11:1)
In the first reading today, it would seem as something of a shock for the Lord to be saying that He does not care about their sacrifices and He does not ask them to come to the temple to visit Him. He tells them specifically, "Trample My courts no more, bring no more worthless offerings. Your incense is loathsome to Me." Of all the things which were the most precious to the Jewish people, the Lord is saying, "Don't do this anymore." It would be as if He were to say, "I am tired of you coming to Mass; I don't want this sacrifice anymore. Don't pray your rosary anymore; I'm tired of it. I've had enough." It is not that He did not want sacrifice being offered and it is not that He did not want the people to come to the temple, but it is a matter of what the problem was. The Lord says, "Your hands are full of blood; wash yourselves clean. Put away your misdeeds from before My eyes. Cease doing evil; learn to do good. Make justice your aim; redress the wrong. Hear the orphan's plea and defend the widow." That was the problem: The people were going out and committing sin, and they were just filled with selfishness. Then they would come to the temple and try to act like they were righteous, not acknowledging their sinfulness. It was all for show. That was what the Lord was disgusted by.
He knows, obviously, that we are all sinners; and it is precisely because we are sinners that we need to be here and we need to offer sacrifice. So it is not a matter of saying, "Until you stop sinning, don't come to church," otherwise we will never get here. But it is a matter of Him saying, "If you are going to be coming before Me, you need to start living what it is that you are doing." In other words, "You come here and pray. You come here and offer sacrifice. You are trying to present a holy demeanor, but then what happens when you are outside of church?" Do we lie and cheat and steal? Do we trample upon people? Do we do things that are unjust to others and try to justify ourselves in so doing?
Those are the things that the Lord would be disgusted with, not that we have sinned and confessed our sins and recognized that we are sinners. But rather, it is the façade that the Lord does not like: trying to make ourselves look one way, when in fact we are completely different. We cannot fool the Lord. We can fool one another. We can make ourselves look pretty good. We could come here every morning; we could be here before Mass; we could stay after Mass. Everybody could think that we are really pretty wonderful and holy, and then we could walk out of here and nobody else that is here would know what our life is like. But the Lord knows and that is the One who is making this statement.
What He is looking for from each one of us is to be truly striving for holiness, to tear down the façade and to make sure that we are truly living a holy life, that we are striving for true holiness. Again, it is not that He expects that when you walk out of here every morning that you are going to be perfect and that you will live a life without sin. But rather, what He is looking for is that you are trying to live that and when you fall, that you acknowledge it, that you try to repent and change your life so that you do not do that anymore rather than justifying yourself and making excuses as to why it is okay to go out and sin and to be unjust. The Lord is looking for our lives outside of church to reflect what happens in church so that our sacrifices and our prayers will be acceptable to Him, so that He will hear all of our prayers, because we are washing ourselves clean, because we are trying to remove the misdeeds from before His eyes. That is what the Lord is seeking.
It is exactly what Our Lord is pointing out again in the Gospel reading: It is to put Him first. If we are putting something else before Him, making anything more important than Him, we are not worthy of Him. And so, we come here before Him and we are telling Him that He is the most important. We are getting up early; we are making sacrifices to come before Him and to receive Him in Holy Communion. But then what happens when we walk out of here? Is our life outside of Mass a reflection of what happens in Mass? Or is the Mass just a façade? That is what the Lord is looking at. If it is a façade, our worship is pointless. If we are trying to change our lives and live lives of holiness and justice, then our worship is very fruitful and very pleasing to the Lord. Not that He is expecting perfection, but He is expecting that we are going to try and that we are doing our best to live a holy life.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.