Friday July 19, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Isaiah 38:1-6, 21-22, 7-8) Gospel (St. Matthew 12:1-8)
In the first reading today, we see King Hezekiah on his deathbed praying to the Lord. And the Lord sends the prophet Isaiah to Hezekiah, who, by the way, was only one of the two decent kings in all of Israel's history other than David (there were Hezekiah and Josiah; the rest of them were all very, very much on the other side of things). Anyway, Hezekiah prays to the Lord and says, "Remember how faithfully and wholeheartedly I conducted myself in Your presence, doing what was pleasing to you!" because he had brought about the liturgical reforms and brought things back to the way they were supposed to be among the people of Israel. And so, the Lord says to him through the prophet Isaiah that He will heal him.
Now there are two ways of being able to look at this. First, we can see the goodness of the Lord in healing him and allowing fifteen more years to be put onto his life so that he could continue to lead the people in the right way and bring the people back to God. At the same time, one could look at this from a Christian perspective and say, "Why would somebody want to hang around here?"
That is something about which, sadly, even most Catholic people would say, "What are you talking about? What do you mean, 'Why would somebody want to hang around longer'? Of course we do not want to die!" I would suggest exactly the opposite. If you had an opportunity to go to Heaven today, why stick around? If there is a question of whether or not you would go to Heaven if you were to die today, then there is good reason to want to stick around for awhile. But if God is going to call you home, wouldn't you want to go there? Why hang around here in the vale of tears when you can go to the place of unending joy? We fight so desperately to hang onto life in this world mostly because, perhaps, we do not have complete faith in the life that is to come.
Now I am not suggesting that we go out and try to do something to shorten our life or to kill ourselves or do anything stupid or sinful, but it is simply to be able to look at our attitude toward eternity - particularly our attitude toward death. It is something that most people are terrified of, but for Christian people it is something that we should be running toward. It is something we should be looking forward to, not running away from, because, for us, death is the doorway that leads to eternal life. And if we have faith in Jesus Christ and in the promises the Lord has made, then we have absolutely nothing to fear but everything to hope for.
So if I were Hezekiah and Isaiah came to me and said, "Don't worry, I've just added fifteen more years to your life," I would have to wonder what I have done to the Lord that made Him upset enough that He added fifteen more years on because He would not take me home. That is not the way most people would think. And it is not that there is any sense of morbidity or that I have some sort of weird death wish; but rather, it is to be able to say that if we believe truly in Jesus Christ and what He stands for, and in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, then we need to change the way we look at things. We need to live our lives in this world for Jesus Christ. And I can truly say with Saint Paul, "It doesn't matter." If the Lord wants us to stay here, praise Him!; there is work to do and we will stay. But if He wants us to go home, there is nothing we would rather do and no place we would rather be. That needs to be our Christian attitude. That is the way we should be looking at things.
But if we look at it in such a way that we find ourselves just hanging on and clinging to every moment we can possibly stay here and doing everything we can to do that, something is wrong. Again, that is not to say that we should not be rejoicing in our life here; we should. But it is a matter that we should have our focus set on the world to come, on the life that will never end. We live in this world for the next, not just for this life. But we are living here as strangers; we are living here as sojourners; we are living here as foreigners, as people in a foreign land who are in exile as we wait to be able to go to our true home country, to Heaven. And so, we live in this world with our eyes and our heart focused on the next world. That is what we need to be doing.
If death is something that we find terrifying, then we had better look pretty deeply within ourselves and ask why and get our house in order, because one day we know the Lord will call us home. And if we are not ready today, do not fool yourself into thinking that you will be ready next year or in ten years or fifteen; we have to be ready always. We need to be looking forward to the day we can be with Jesus. That is what our Christian life is all about, and that is the way that our focus must be set - not on this world and seeing how far we can extend it, but doing the Will of the Lord in this world and living here as long as He wants but always with our heart set on Him forever.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.