Tuesday August 13, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Ezekiel 2:8-3:4) Gospel (St. Matthew 18:1-5, 10, 12-14)
Our Lord tells us in the Gospel reading today that we must become like little children. He makes it very clear and says, "Unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of Heaven." But then He tells us exactly what He means by it as well; He tells us that we must become humble like a child. When we look at the first reading, we can couple that also with the obedience that is expected of children. The Lord says to Ezekiel, "You will obey everything that I tell you to do." That is exactly what the Lord expects of us. We are not going to be able to be obedient until we are humble.
Now, even in our pride, I suppose we could say that we are going to be obedient just to try to prove that we can do it, but even that is not going to work. We will only be obedient to the things that we want to do, but we are not going to be obedient necessarily to what God is asking of us because we all know too well that He asks of us some things that we would prefer not to do. Those things, even in our pride, we will not obey because either we do not understand them or we do not like them. Because we have chosen to do what we want to do instead of what God wants us to do, we are not going to do the things that we do not like. And we do not do the things that we do not understand because it does not make a whole lot of sense to us.
I would submit that what we all ought to do is just read the prophets and ask, "How many things did they do that really looked totally foolish?" They would have been thought, in our day, to be thorough and complete idiots. They would have been locked up for some of the things that they did, quite frankly. And would we do it? How many of us would actually do some of the things that the prophets did? Jeremiah walked around with a yoke on his shoulders. Ezekiel had to dig a hole in the wall in the middle of the night and walk off. Jeremiah had to walk around in a little strap that he was wearing and he would have looked like a total fool. Who of us would obey God if He asked that? Probably none of us, unless we were humble enough to do it.
So it is not just a matter of saying, "Alright, I'll obey anything that You tell me to do," because we know that we will not. It is our pride, even, that says that is what we are going to do. We need simply to pray for humility. And as we have spoken about many times, humility is a virtue that all of us desire - hopefully, anyway - but very few of us really want because we do not want what it is going to require to get there. We would love to be humble but we do not want to be humiliated. Therefore, we do not grow very much in humility. And when we are humiliated, then we see how little humility we really have because we usually get defensive or angry - or both. The pride just pops right up to the front and all the humiliation that the Lord is providing has very little effect on us because we do not really want it.
We need to desire it, and we need to learn even to rejoice in the humiliations. We need to learn that the humiliations, more than anything, are the very things which are going to make us holy. They are the things that make us more childlike. They are the things, therefore, that make us more Christlike. So if we want to be like Jesus, we need to be humble and we need to be obedient; those are the things, above all else. We know that Jesus was pure charity, but there is not going to be any charity without the humility; the two are linked completely. If we want to be like the Lord, we have to strive for those virtues of humility and obedience so that we can have the charity of Jesus within us.
That is what the Lord is asking of us and He even makes it a requirement to be able to enter the kingdom of Heaven. Not just a requirement if you want to be a saint, it is a requirement for anybody to enter the kingdom of Heaven. "You must become like a child; you must become humble like a child," Jesus tells us. That is not an easy task for us. But as the Lord makes very clear for us in this context, it is going to be our greatest glory. When we see the humility of the saints, that they are willing to be obedient to anything God asks of them, it is for that reason that we call them saints: because they were humble and they were obedient. They loved, therefore, with the love of Jesus. And if we want to be like Jesus, if we want to be holy, it requires, first, that we be humble so that we can be obedient and take on the virtues and the life of Our Lord.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.