September 1, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I (Jeremiah 20:7-9) Reading II (Romans 12:1-2)
Gospel (St. Matthew 16:21-27)
Saint Paul, in the second reading today, says to the people of Rome that they are not to conform themselves to the present age, but they are to be transformed through a renewal of their mind so that they will know what is the Will of God, whatever is good and pleasing and perfect. Now if you think about the people to whom he was writing and telling them not to be conformed to the present age, and that was the people of Rome 2,000 years ago, what do you think he would say to us, the people of America today? In many ways our society is very similar to the society of ancient Rome. They had abortion, euthanasia, contraception, and a variety of other things, the debauchery and the selfishness and the materialism and all the other things that were there. In many ways it was not a whole lot different from our society - with one exception. That is, we have gone way beyond what the people of Rome would ever have imagined. Things were not good in ancient Rome; things are worse for us.
And so as Saint Paul could tell the people 2,000 years ago to be transformed by a renewal of their minds, to make sure that they are not conforming themselves to the present age, he would be even more emphatic with us. It is something we need to take very seriously. It is something we have heard over and over again, and most of us pay very little attention to it. We like the present age, unfortunately. We like the conveniences, many of which are perfectly fine. But then we get duped into this idea of thinking that if the conveniences are okay so is most everything else. Or we fall into the trap of thinking, "As long as I'm not in favor of abortion or euthanasia or some other completely hideous thing, then I'm doing okay," thinking that it is okay to accept things that are evil just not as evil as some other things because our society has said that it is all okay.
This is exactly what the people of Planned Parenthood know is going to happen. They are the ones who go into the schools and teach the kids "Just say no to sex". They know fully well that is not going to happen. They have an agenda. So they present an extreme: some poor person who has all kinds of diseases that they have picked up and is dying from AIDS or some other sexually transmitted disease. Then they portray as an extreme on the other side someone whom they would portray as having no fun at all, someone who, living their faith, says, "No, that's not right and I won't do it." They portray this person as someone who is shunned and does not have friends and sits home alone and is lonely. The middle ground? Contraceptive sex. That is what Planned Parenthood is interested in teaching our children. But you see how they do it. They portray two extremes - both false - knowing that the average person is going to aim for the middle ground.
If all we do in our society is reject the extreme and we strive for the middle, we are still way far away from where the Gospel is. Jesus makes very clear at the end of today's Gospel that He is going to judge each one of us according to our conduct, not the way that many Christian people proclaim that Jesus is going to judge us according to our faith. Nowhere in the Scripture does it ever say that, but that is okay apparently. He says very clearly and explicitly that He is going to judge each one of us according to our conduct, according to the deeds in our body.
And so, we need to ask ourselves, "What are we living? How much are we giving into the ways of the world?" Thanks be to God, we are rejecting the extreme, but are we choosing what the world considers the middle ground? Is the Gospel of Jesus Christ considered an extreme on one end that we want to stay away from while at the same time we want to stay away from the extremity of sin on the other hand and so, therefore, we cut a compromise?" Just like politicans in America: "Let's find a compromise." And the compromise is always to compromise the truth so that we can find the middle ground with people who do not want to live the truth. There is no middle ground when it comes to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We either live the truth or we do not.
We have a choice to make. Saint Paul tells us not to conform ourselves to the present age, and then tells us to be transformed by a renewal of our minds for the purpose of knowing what is the Will of God. And so the transformance of our minds must be according to the Gospel, must be according to the ways of prayer. We must be transformed into the very likeness of the Person of Jesus Christ. How else are we ever going to know what is His Will - what is good and pleasing and perfect - unless we are united with Him? That is the only way. And we need to make sure when we are looking at Him that we look at the fullness of Who He is.
In the first reading today, Jeremiah, in one of my favorite lines of all of Scripture, says, "You duped me, Lord, and I allowed myself to be duped." Probably all of us could say that, except that it was not the Lord who has duped any of us. We allowed ourselves to be duped by picking and choosing what we wanted to listen to. Just think, for instance, of what Our Lord said to His apostles. If you pick and choose what you want to hear from the Lord's mouth about His apostles, He told Peter, as we heard a week ago, that He is going to build His Church on Peter; He is going to give Peter the keys to the kingdom of Heaven. He told His disciples that they will sit upon twelve thrones in the kingdom of Heaven and they will judge the twelve tribes of Israel. Now that sounds pretty good. When Peter asked, "What are you going to give us because we have left everything?" He says, "I am going to give you a hundredfold of everything that you have given up."
Now we can look at all of that and say, "But the disciples had to suffer." They were all martyred except for Saint John, and they tried twice to martyr him but failed. That does not sound quite like what the Lord promised them, until you stop and look a little further and see that He told them He would give them a hundredfold and persecution besides. He said to them, "The world will hate you." He told us in the Gospel reading this morning that anyone who wishes to be His follower must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow in His footsteps. He told us that we would suffer in this world, but to take heart because He has overcome the world. So there is a balance that we need to find in there. If we only listen to the words of Jesus that we want to hear, then we are going to say, "You duped me, Lord, and I allowed myself to be duped." But, actually, all we can really say is the latter half of it: I allowed myself to be duped, because the Lord was straightforward with us just as He was with Jeremiah. If you go back and read the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah, Jeremiah makes very clear that the Lord told Him exactly what was going to happen to him. But Jeremiah listened attentively at first only to the good stuff, to the stuff he wanted to hear.
That happens pretty much to all of us until the other part happens. Then we scratch our heads and we complain and wonder why God has abandoned us: "Why does He hate me so much that He is allowing these horrible things to happen in my life? What have I done wrong that God is allowing all of this suffering to take place?" That is not Catholic thought. It is not the thought of Jesus. It is not the way the Gospel or the New Testament presents things. But it is the way we have been duped. We need a transformance of our minds. They need to be transformed into the mind of Jesus Christ. And we need to have our wills transformed so that we will choose the Will of Jesus Christ.
Now we could ask ourselves, each one of us, if we have experienced what Jeremiah experienced, as we look at the struggles, as we find ourselves rejected by the worldly types because they do not want to hear what we have to say and they do not want to live the way that we live, so we find ourselves on the outside and we say, "I will speak His word no more. I'll just be silent. I'll just try to kind of be quietly on the edge of things. I'm not going to give into the way they are doing things but I'm not really going to stand up either." We have all probably experienced something similar to that, and we know what happens: We usually get sucked right back in. But Jeremiah, on the other hand, wanting to do the Will of God but trying to fight against Him at the same time, says that the Word of God burns within him like a fire imprisoned within his bones. And even though he desires not to speak any more because it brings him derision and ridicule all the day, he cannot hold it in. Now if you can say the same thing, then you are on the right track. If you can look back at some point and say, "I wasn't sure that I wanted to do it God's way anymore because I was being rejected and ridiculed, but I couldn't take it. It was burning within me and I had to speak out. I had to live the way that I knew Christ wanted me to live. I knew that I had to dress the way He wanted me to dress and act the way he wanted me to act and speak the way He wanted me to speak." If that is what we can say, then we are on the right track.
If we have never experienced being shunned and ridiculed because of our faith that means we have conformed ourselves to this age. We have not been transformed by a renewal of our mind. If, on the other hand, we can say that we have decided at some point along the line that maybe doing it God's way cost a little too much and we wanted to pull back and so we pulled back to the point where we were not being ridiculed anymore, we were not being shunned or rejected, then what we have done is to shun and reject the Word of God. We have given in, once again, to the ways of the world. As I have mentioned many times, if the worldly types like you and you fit in well, then there is trouble, then we are not living according to the Gospel, we are not living according to a transformed mind and a transformed will so that we know what is the Will of God and do it. If the word of Jesus Christ is not burning within us, then we are not being transformed as the Lord desires for us to be.
Saint Paul's call to the people of Rome - and I think we could easily say his call to the people of America - is very clear and unequivocal: Do not conform yourselves to the present age, but be transformed by a renewal of your mind so that you will know what is the Will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect. Jesus, when He was asked about what is good, said, "Only one is good, and that is God." To do the Will of God is the only thing that is going to be truly pleasing to the Lord. And to do the Will of God - we must be very clear so that none of us can say we were duped - is going to look and feel just like the Cross, because it will be. Peter did not like to hear that from Jesus at first; and then he was transformed, even to the point that he himself was crucified.
Each one of us needs to be transformed as well. We need to set our focus on Jesus Christ Crucified. We need to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him. That is what it is to be transformed according to the mind of Jesus Christ. Now we need to ask, "Am I willing to do it?" Not one of us can sit here and say, "I've been duped. I didn't know that this is what God wanted of me." It is very, very clear. So we have two choices: the mind of the world - which is the mind of Satan - or the mind of God. And we have a very clear call to each one of us as Christian persons: Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by a renewal of your mind so that you will know what is the Will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.