Friday August 23, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Ezekiel 37:1-14) Gospel (St. Matthew 22:34-40)
Our Lord in the Gospel tells us that the greatest commandment in the whole law is to love God with our whole heart and soul and strength, and the second is to love our neighbor as ourselves. We all have heard this so many times, and the question really is what does it mean? It does not mean to have good feelings about somebody. It does not simply mean being nice to somebody. What it means is seeking the good of the other person and, more than that, when it comes to loving God, it means being obedient to anything and everything that God wants. It means being humble before the Lord and seeking His Will above our own.
If we just think about the first reading, for instance, God takes the prophet Ezekiel and places him out on a plane that is filled with dry bones. For a Jewish person, to touch a bone makes the person unclean. But God takes the prophet and He makes him walk from the east to the west and the north to the south, walking among the dry bones. This is the epitome of uncleanness for the Jewish people, and yet the prophet has to be obedient to the Lord. Then the Lord tells him, "Now prophesy. Prophesy over the dry bones and tell them to come to life." Who of us, looking at a pile of dry bones, would actually think that such a thing would occur? If we said some words, do we really think that those bones are going to come to life? Yet this is exactly what the Lord was asking the prophet to do, and Ezekiel had to be obedient to the Lord. Notice that he did not say, "But Lord, if I have to walk among the bones, I'm going to be unclean!" The Lord knew that. Ezekiel was a priest above all things; he knew fully well what he was going to become. He had to be obedient. When God asked him to do something that seemed utterly ludicrous, he had, once again, to be obedient. He had to love God so much that he would do anything that God asked. And he had to love his neighbor so much that he would be willing to do whatever he had to for those people. In this case, all the people were dead, and God was going to bring them back to life, open their graves and have them rise from them, and bring them back to the land of Israel.
For us, too, we have all the promises of the resurrection. We know that the word of the Lord is going to be spoken and our bodies are going to rise from the grave. The bones will be put back together and the flesh and the sinews will be put upon them, and the skin over that, and the spirit is going to be put back in. Then we will enter into the true Israel, into the new and eternal Jerusalem, into Heaven itself. But we have to trust in the Lord. We have to have the kind of love for God that is going to say, "I will trust even in the midst of doubt. I will continue to love and continue to be obedient even when it doesn't seem to make a whole lot of sense to me," because God is not asking that it make a lot of sense. He is not asking us to figure it out and to be able to explain everything logically. He is simply asking that we will accept everything that He has said and be obedient to Him, to be humble before the Lord.
These sorts of things are not easy for us. What is a lot easier is to convince ourselves to have good feelings toward the Lord, and even when we are not real happy about things, to come to prayer and tell Him that we are. We are not going to fool God; it does not work. What we need to be is honest with the Lord, and we need to be honest with ourselves and keep reminding ourselves that He is God and His word is truth, and in His word there is power. If He has spoken it, it is true and it will be done. He said that not one word He has spoken will return to Him empty or void, but it will the do the Will of Him who sent it; it will achieve the purpose for which it was sent.
And so it will be in our lives. We simply need to trust the Lord. We need to have enough love for God that no matter what happens we will continue to have our focus on Him, we will continue to trust Him and to love Him, and to give it all for Him. That is not about having nice feelings, but rather, that is about virtue. That is what love is: It is unswerving virtue and putting God first above all things, and seeking the good of our neighbor even at the cost of our own selves. That is what God is asking of us. Not to have happy feelings and nice thoughts, but rather, love is self-sacrificing; it is seeking the good of the other; it is to put our own desires and our own will aside and seek the will of another - so first and foremost, above all else, to put God first, to seek His Will, to be obedient, and to sacrifice ourselves in obedience to God for the good of others.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.