Monday August 26, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (2 Thessalonians 1:1-5, 11-12) Gospel (St. Matthew 23:13-22)
Our Lord, in speaking to His disciples and to the crowds, is calling the Pharisees and the scribes a bunch of hypocrites because they are locking Heaven. They will not enter themselves and they lock it for others as well. He tells them that what they are doing is making other people into children of Gehenna twice as bad as they themselves are. And so He is already condemning them for what they are doing, but then tells us that these others are twice as bad. The reason for that is because they are not being taught in the first place - they are being taught wrongly - and then they are being encouraged in things that are wrong. The Lord then makes clear on a number of different points where they are teaching wrong things. If these people who are converting to Judaism did not know what the real truth was and they believed the scribes and Pharisees, then they are being led astray. What they would know of Judaism is something that is wrong; it is not what the Lord revealed, but it is what these people have been teaching them. That is what the Lord is condemning.
The same thing is true in certain areas of Christianity, and we even have some sects of this sort of thing within the Church: people who say, for instance, "You don't have to suffer. Jesus did all that for you already; He doesn't want you to suffer." They preach the "Gospel of Health and Wealth" where everything is supposed to be pleasant and easy. I think if Jesus were standing here He would say, "Blind guides! Fools! Hypocrites!" because they should know better than that. One reading of the New Testament ought to make very clear that that is not the truth. In fact, Saint Paul tells us (as he is boasting of the people of Thessalonica) that, because of their endurance and faith in all the persecutions and afflictions they have, "this is evidence of the just judgment of God so that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God for which you are suffering." It is exactly the opposite of what is being preached by so many these days. They themselves are cutting their own selves out of Heaven, but they are keeping others out as well. So it is not just the scribes and Pharisees; it is priests, ministers, and all these people who refuse to live the Gospel and refuse to preach the Gospel. They claim to be preaching Jesus Christ but they refuse to preach the Cross of Jesus Christ - of which Saint Paul says that his only boast is the Cross of Jesus Christ, by which he has been crucified to the world and the world to him. There are so many living a Christianity that says, "You can be completely worldly and you can be a Christian too. You can have your cake and eat it too. You can immerse yourself entirely into worldliness and all the ease and comfort of the world and you can call yourself a good Christian." Nowhere does Jesus say that. Nowhere is it even suggested anywhere in the Scriptures that that would be a possibility. But that is what many, many, many Christian people are believing, both Catholic and otherwise.
And so the Lord would, once again, point out that what is happening is while we are claiming Jesus Christ, we are becoming as children of Gehenna. We are embracing Gehenna while we are giving lip service to Jesus, and it does not work. We need to make sure if we are going to claim our faith in Jesus Christ that we need to live it. That means enduring the sufferings and conforming ourselves to Christ. It means rejecting the selfishness, rejecting the worldliness, and living according to the fullness of the Gospel.
Even if you do not want to think about the fullness of it and you just want to narrow it down and say, "Where do we begin?" the whole Gospel can be really brought down to one specific point, that is, the Cross. It is on the Cross that we see the love of God revealed most perfectly. It is on the Cross that we are going to find the salvation for our souls. It is on the Cross that we find the example for each one of us to follow. If we want to be able to say, "Well, rather than looking at the whole Gospel, where do we begin?" the whole Gospel is the Cross, and the place to begin is the Cross. That is where we need to have our sights fixed. If it is anything other than the Cross, we are not walking the way Jesus told us to, we are not following in His footsteps, we are not taking up our cross everyday and following Him.
So we need to make sure that we are not becoming blind guides or that we are not following blind guides. We need to make sure that we are not hypocrites, preaching Jesus Christ but not living it. We need to make sure that we do not tell other people about the Cross and run away from it ourselves. We need to make sure if we are going to proclaim our faith that we are going to live the faith, that is, to live the faith in Jesus Christ by embracing the Cross and living the Cross; and getting to the point where, with Saint Paul, we can say that our only boast is the Cross and that, along with the Cross of Jesus Christ, we can boast in the Lord Himself - but in Him crucified. That is the preaching of Saint Paul. Not this "Gospel of Health and Wealth" nonsense, but the Cross of Jesus Christ - and only the Cross of Jesus Christ.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.