Monday July 29, 2002 (Audio) Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (1 John 4:7-16) Gospel (St. John 11:19-27)
In the first reading from the First Letter of Saint John, we are told that because God has loved us we must love one another. It is not an option for us; Saint John tells us we must have that love for one another. He tells us also that we must remain in God's love and the love of God must remain in us. And how is it that that love of God remains in us? He tells us that God has given us of His Spirit, that God has sent His Holy Spirit to dwell within each one of us. The Holy Spirit is the love of God, so we have everything that we need to be able to love one another, to be able to continue to grow in that love.
But it first has to be a love for God because God has loved us. Love is a relationship; it is a two-way street. While it is certainly possible for a person to love another person without being loved in return, the fullness of love is a relationship. And so, God loves us. "Love consists in this," Saint John says, "not that we have loved Him, but that He has loved us and has sent His Son as an expiation for our sins." Out of love for us, God has made the first move and He has given us everything. It was not that He stuck His toe in the water to see how we were going to respond; but rather, He gave everything. He poured out completely everything that He had out of love for us. Now He leaves it to us to make a decision of whether we are going to love Him in return, whether we are going to accept the gift that He offered, or whether we are going to reject it.
And if we accept it, what are we going to do with it? Are we going to take it selfishly (which, in essence, is to reject it) or are we going to accept the gift that He offered and return a life gift? It is not that God is looking for any kind of gift in return; but rather, when one recognizes the fact that we are being loved, the heart should be moved to desire to love in return. That is what the Lord desires for us. It is not that He is looking for us to give something to Him; but rather, He knows that what is the very best for us is that we would love because that is why we were created: to love and to be loved - [we are] made in the image and likeness of God, who is love. So for us to be able to accept and receive the gift that God has given, it really demands on our part that we will return that love in a life gift.
Now part of that is going to be based on our faith. Martha made that act of faith in the Gospel reading: "I know my brother will rise again in the resurrection on the last day," and then made the act of faith that Jesus is the Messiah, the One who is coming into the world. That is where it needs to begin with us: to be able to have that solid faith in Jesus Christ and everything that He is and everything that He taught. Then once we are firm in that - not wavering or doubting in the least - we are able to give to Him as He has given to us; that is, completely, pouring everything into it, giving Him our whole heart and our whole being just as He has done for us, because we know the One whom we love. We are able to give everything because we can trust Him completely; we do not have to worry about Him violating us; we do not have to worry about Him taking advantage of us in any way; but rather, He will simply receive what we give and He will return the gift - but even in a greater way.
That is where love becomes a two-way street. God has loved us so we must love one another. But before we can love one another, we have to have that love for God so that we are loving one another with the very love of God, which is poured forth into our hearts. That is the way this needs to be. We can learn from Saint Martha how to do it. Saint Martha so often is known as the one who was anxious and worried about many things. But Martha learned how to love and she is a saint because she loved. Anyone who is a saint is a saint for the same reason, ultimately. They become saints in many ways, but they are saints because they loved. Each one of us is called to be a saint. And there is ultimately only one way to become a saint and that is to love, to love God and to love neighbor, and to return the love of God as He has loved us.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.