Tuesday August 20, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Ezekiel 28:1-10) Gospel (St. Matthew 19:23-30)
When we hear about the prince of Tyre and his thinking that he is a god because by his own ingenuity and his skill in trading and doing business he had become very wealthy, the Lord comes against him and says, "Because this is the way you think, I'm going to send the most barbarous nation against you and they will destroy you. Then are you going to think 'I am a god!' any longer?" Well, I do not suspect there are any of us who quite think that way, but what we do need to look at is that whole issue of the wealth because Our Lord in the Gospel makes very clear that it is going to be very difficult for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of Heaven.
Now, I suspect most of us are probably sitting back saying, "Thank goodness, I'm not rich." However, I would submit to you that there is not one of us here who is not. When we see someone who is truly poor, we realize just how wealthy we are. I am reminded of a book that I think I have mentioned to you before by a man who went around the world taking photographs. What he did was to ask various people to take everything they owned and put it out on the front lawn, and then he took a picture of the people and all of their belongings. He went out to the huge mansions, out to the movie stars in California and did that; he went to third world countries and did it; into the Midwest and South, up into Canada and all around the world, and he did the same thing. And when we would see what we (who would probably be middle class) would have, as opposed to people who truly live an impoverished life, we realize just how wealthy we are. And we realize too that the poorest people in the United States would be rich by comparison to some other countries. In other words, if those people had what they have now and lived in a third world country, they would be considered to be among the most wealthy people in the country. And so when we put it into that perspective, we realize that while we may not be filthy rich and dripping with all kinds of things, nonetheless, we are very rich.
The difficulty with this is not so much the money - the fact that people have something - but the difficulty is that we tend to make that so important. We tend to make it more important than God. We tend to get caught up in our materialism and in our wealth, and we get attached to it. Then we begin to make the things themselves into little gods, whether it is the money that we put so much time and effort into, whether it is the money that we spend so much effort making sure that we have enough and being so worried day by day and hour by hour as to how we are going to have it and what we are going to do to get more and what we are going to do to make sure we do not lose what we have and - blah, blah, blah - as it goes on and on in our minds, when we could be thinking about the Lord and praying. Instead, we are caught up in those sorts of transactions and thoughts. We get concerned about our material things and how we are going to get more so we can keep up with the neighbors and all these weird ideas that go through our minds. That is where the problem comes in.
That is why the Lord says that it will be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of Heaven. People try to explain that away, but I think we need to take the Lord at His word. Think of a sewing needle and a camel. It will be easier for that camel to get through the eye of a sewing needle than it will for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of Heaven. Now, the apostles recognized this and said, "Well, then who can be saved?" The Lord says that for us it is impossible, "but for God all things are possible." So we are not to despair in the face of it, but what we need to do is look at where our priorities lie. We need to look at how we live our lives and we need to make some serious choices. Then we need to pray, because we need to realize that we are not going to be able just to skate right into Heaven without any problem because we were such wonderful people. But rather, we need to make sure we recognize what Our Lord has told us: that we fit into the category of which He says, "It is impossible, but for God all things are possible." We need to learn to rely on Him the way that people who have nothing learn to rely on God. We tend to rely upon our wealth and all of the other things around us instead of relying upon God.
So we need to learn to turn to the Lord and we need to rely on Him because that is the only means by which we are going to be saved. Our money might give us an easy life here, but it will not get us to Heaven; only God is able to do that. We need to learn to turn to Him in our wealth or in our poverty; it does not matter. It is not to turn and ask Him for more money; but rather, it is to ask Him for the humility of heart to be dependent on Him and to trust in Him to get us to Heaven. That is the only way we are going to be saved. Saint Peter tells us that there is only one name given to humanity by which we will be saved, that is, the Name of Jesus Christ. There is no other means by which we can be saved. So that is the lesson we need to learn today: that we are very wealthy, and it is impossible for us to be able to get to Heaven in any other way than to be dependent upon Jesus Christ. That is where we must keep our focus, recognizing ourselves for who we truly are and learning to become dependent on the Lord.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.