Will You Be Part of the Remnant?
August 18, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I (Isaiah 56:1, 6-7) Reading II (Romans 11:13-15, 29-32)
Gospel (St. Matthew 15:21-28)
In the first reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, God tells us that His house will be a house of prayer for all peoples. This is something that the Jewish people of the time did not understand. They had heard this not only from the prophet Isaiah, but they had heard it from others as well. Jeremiah tells us that the day is coming when the Lord will make a new covenant, and in that covenant the Gentiles would also be one with the Jews. But the Jewish people did not understand what that meant. They assumed what it meant is that the Gentiles would all convert and they would become Jews. And that makes perfect sense because Judaism was the one revealed religion; that was the one religion that God Himself had revealed; it was the worship that God had shown to the world that He expected and wanted for Himself.
But God had other plans in mind that the Jewish people did not understand. And so what God did is to take the most extraordinary Jew to have walked the face of the earth, a man by the name of Saul of Tarsus, and He knocked him down and converted him. He showed to Saint Paul the truth of what His plan was all about. And toward the end of his ministry, as we saw in the second reading today, Saint Paul was able to call himself the apostle to the Gentiles. This is a man who, some 30 years earlier, would have wanted to destroy the Gentiles, to remove from the world all the "vermin" of the Gentiles, if you want to think of it that way. God, in His sense of humor, turned him around and said, "Now you go and preach the Gospel to the people that you wanted condemned. You go and bring the word of mercy and reconciliation to the people that you thought had no hope at all."
In fact, what Saint Paul wound up preaching was exactly the opposite of what the Jewish people of his time would have thought. He began to preach that it was the disobedience to the Will and the Word of God that brought about the salvation of the Gentiles, and it was going to be through the obedience of the Gentiles and Saint Paul's preaching that the Jewish people, becoming jealous that someone else had the truth, would actually convert and they would be saved. That is something that has been prayed about - and prayed for - for 2,000 years now, and it is going to be one of the signs of the end times. We will know when the end is about to come because Saint Paul tells us that one of the signs is going to be the mass conversion of the Jewish people.
In the meantime, we need to look at what is going on in the Church today because we have lots of people who have differing ideas about where the truth lies, what is going to happen, and so on. We have many non-Catholic Christians who think that every single Catholic is excluded from the kingdom of Heaven. They believe that the Catholic Church is the antichrist, that we have chosen the way of Satan, and that what needs to happen if somebody is going to be saved is they need to leave the Catholic Church and become something else. And then we have all kinds of unfortunate souls who project upon Catholics the idea that only Catholics can be saved. The humorous part about that is the Catholic Church is about the only group who has ever said that not only Catholics will be saved - but, in fact, Jews and other Christians and people of good will can all be saved. There are those unfortunate jokes that float around that say something in the punch line to the effect of "Well, that's where the Catholics are, but just don't tell them that the rest of us are up here!"
If they had a clue, even the slightest clue, of what the Catholic Church really teaches…but they do not. God has shrouded them. He has shrouded their minds in confusion so that they cannot see, they cannot understand. But it is not merely a matter of pointing a finger and saying, "Those people over there, they don't get it!" because I would submit to you that most Catholics don't get it either. We must be very careful that we do not sit around smugly like the Jews in the time of Isaiah or the time of Saint Paul, thinking that we have got it and nobody else does. There is some truth to that. The Jewish people had the truth that God revealed, but they refused to live it. They profaned the Name of God; they profaned the Sabbath; they were disobedient to the Lord. But because they knew theirs was the one revealed religion, they sat back arrogantly thinking that everybody had to become like them. If they had been obedient to their faith, everybody would have had to become like them.
And I submit to you that the same is true today about Roman Catholics. We sit back smugly and we say, "We have the truth." And so we do. The fullness of the truth subsists in the Roman Catholic Church, the Second Vatican Council says, and only in the Roman Catholic Church. That does not mean that others do not have truth; they have a fair amount of it. Some, very much. But we have the fullness of the truth. But we have failed to live it, because in our arrogance we sit back and we think that we have got it and nobody else does and so we ram it down other people's throats while we refuse to live it ourselves. We have become like the Pharisees whom Jesus condemned saying, "You bind up heavy loads to put on other people's shoulders and refuse to lift a finger to help them." We are like the Pharisees who try to tell everybody else that they have to live according to the Ten Commandments, but we refuse to do it ourselves because we think that somehow we are above it.
We have the fullness of the truth and we refuse to accept it and believe it. And worst of all, we refuse to live it. Even for those of us who believe it, how much has it really made a difference in our lives? How much have we changed to make sure we are living that truth? It is not enough to sit here and believe it if we do not act upon it. Jesus told us very clearly, "Not all of those who call out "Lord, Lord," will enter the kingdom of Heaven but only those who do the Will of My Father in Heaven." Look at Isaiah, he basically said the exact same thing in the reading this morning: "Those who do the Will of God…" So God has given us the truth and we have accepted that truth. Hopefully, we can all say that we have accepted the fullness of the truth.
But there are things that we know fully well are wrong, and we just shrug our shoulders and say, "Well, everybody else is doing it. It's not that big a deal. It's not as bad as what other people are doing." We try to justify ourselves with slick rationalizations that are not going to stand up very well when we stand before the Lord and He says, "Why did you do this?" What are we going to say? "Well, it wasn't as bad as what some other people were doing"? "It wasn't that big of a deal, Lord. Profaning the Sabbath Day? So what? Working on Sunday? Shopping on Sunday? No problem! Look at what other people were doing on Sunday, after all! It shouldn't be a big deal for me!" Do you think the Lord is going to tolerate that kind of nonsense? I suggest not.
We need to get rid of the arrogance and the smugness, and more than anything we need to get rid of the spiritual sloth that has come upon us because this is a plague that is giving huge trouble to our Church. We have gotten hard-hearted. We can apply to ourselves so many of the things that the Lord speaks in Scripture, not only "hard of heart", but "stiff of neck" and "obtuse" and "hard-headed" and "thick-skulled" and whatever else you want to say. We refuse to change our lives to live according to the Gospel because we think that we do not have to.
Now, listen to what I am saying because it is not going to be an easy thing for people to hear. But it is repeating exactly what the prophet Isaiah told the Jewish people 700 years before Christ, and now in our day, we need to listen to the exact same message. "The time is coming, says the Lord, when He is going to bring together all of the nations into one." And just as what happened 2,000 years ago, that the Gospel message went out to those who had not believed, so it is going to happen again. Look at what happened 2,000 years ago and ask yourself how many Jewish people converted to become Christian. There were a fair number. But when you look at Judaism as a whole, we would have to say that the number of Jewish people who converted to become Christian was a minute fraction of the population. And so it was that the vast majority of those who believed the Gospel of Jesus Christ were pagans; they were Gentiles who rejoiced in the truth and began to live it. Now for those of us whose ancestors were pagans and Gentiles who believed that truth and lived it, we need to ask ourselves, "Have we followed in their footsteps? Or would our ancestors be ashamed of us for the way that we live our faith? For calling ourselves Catholics but refusing to live the Catholic Faith?"
The time is coming very soon when God is going to work in an extraordinary way in this world. There is going to be a purification and those who live through it will be one. Everyone who survives that time will believe in the fullness of the truth, and they will live it. There will be some who were Catholic before that happened. There will be many who were Christians before that happened. There will be a number who were Jews before that happened. And there will be many who were pagans before that happened. There will be one flock and one shepherd. They will hear the Word of God and they will accept it - and they will live it. But many there are who are Catholic today who will not be counted among the elect, either because in their arrogance they became very rigid and judgmental of others - thinking that everybody else was wrong and they were right - and they sat back in judgment of others, yet at the same time refused to live the truth that they were judging others according to; and then there will be other Catholics who just simply plain and flat-out refused to believe the truth: They come to Mass and want to be entertained; they want to be able to do what they want and call themselves Catholics; they want to call themselves tragic titles like "Catholics for Free Choice"; they want to make claims like "It's okay to contracept and be a Catholic," "It's okay to sin and be Catholic," "It's okay to go out and do what you want," and "I don't have to go to Confession."
We have this idea that we can go off and we can live like pagans and act like pagans and then come and profane the temple of God by receiving Holy Communion on Sunday without having gone to Confession when we are in the state of mortal sin. This sacrilege is intolerable to the Lord, and anyone who practices it will be ruthlessly cut off, not because God is unmerciful, but because they have chosen themselves to stray from the way of the Lord. Unless anyone in any of these categories - and so many more -repent, they will find themselves on the outside looking in, out in the darkness where they will wail and grind their teeth. They will say, "But Lord!" And He will say, "I tell you, I do not know you."
We have a choice to make. Do we want to be part of the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ? Do we want to be part of that remnant flock of Christ? Do we want to go to Heaven? That is really what it comes down to. Do we want to be with Jesus Christ? Then we had better start acting like it. We need to study our faith and we need to live our faith. Not just on Sundays, not just at a formal time of prayer, not just when we come before the Lord, because we are with the Lord always; He is with us wherever we go. And so if we would act a certain way before the Blessed Sacrament, if we would act a certain way if Jesus Himself were standing physically right before us, then that is the way we need to act 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Otherwise, the best that we can say of ourselves is that we are rank hypocrites, because we act one way when we are in front of the Lord and entirely another when we are with the Lord but out in the world.
The purification begins in the house of God, and I believe it has begun. We need to make a choice. We need to make some changes. And we need to act upon the faith that we profess. Saint Paul, in the second reading, speaks about the disobedience of the Jewish people and how their disobedience became the reconciliation and the salvation of the pagans. Today, if Saint Paul were standing before us, I think he would stand up and say something about the gross disobedience of the Catholics, of the people to whom he preached the Gospel, and the very people who claim to believe but refuse to act. We need to listen to his words, and we need to recognize that our disobedience has become the salvation of others. But hopefully, now, the preaching of Saint Paul and the conversion of others to the truth will be enough to bring us to conversion, to true and deep and profound conversion, so that we will stop playing a game, playing a charade, and begin to make the changes that are necessary so that we will not be Catholic in name only, but we will be Catholic in fact and that we will truly live the faith that we profess and allow ourselves to be molded into the very image and likeness of Jesus Christ, and bring that image out into the world and act as Catholics and be Catholics at every moment of every day.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.