Wednesday September 11, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (1 Corinthians 7:25-31) Gospel (St. Luke 6:20-26)
Saint Paul, in writing to the Corinthians, tells us that time is running out; and because of that he says we are supposed to live in a way that, in some ways, is the opposite of the way we really are. He says, "Those having wives should act as though they do not have them; those weeping as though not weeping; those rejoicing as not rejoicing; those buying as not owning; and those who are using the world as not fully having it, because the world as we know it is passing away." Then when we look at the Gospel reading, we see Our Lord putting up the exact same kind of opposites. He says, "Blessed are the poor, yours is the kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are you who are hungry, you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who are weeping, you will laugh. Blessed are you when they hate you and insult you and persecute you, rejoice and be gladů" - all the things that are just the opposite of the way things are in the worldly sense.
Obviously, it is not a matter of physical poverty or physical hunger merely that the Lord is talking about, but it is spiritual. Those things which the worldly types are going to see as the greatest blessings are the ones that the Lord says are going to have trouble. But those who look at it spiritually, those who are hungry for the Word of God, those who are weeping because of the sins (their own and those of others), those who are poor in the sense of humility and not seeing themselves as being exalted, these are the ones that the Lord is going to bless, the ones that the world would regard as misfits, the ones that the world does not recognize as its own. But they are the ones that the Lord blesses. That is what Saint Paul is getting at as well, in essence: that when we look at the way things are in our own lives, we can think about just the opposite, see it from a spiritual perspective, and see what the Lord wants to do with it, no matter what the circumstances of our lives may be.
Now, obviously, as Saint Paul makes very clear when he says that those who have wives (or for those ladies, those who have husbands) should act as though they do not have one, that is not saying you can just forget your spouse and ignore the person and live as though he was not even in the house. That is not what he is saying because he even makes very clear right above that that is not the option. "If you are married, you have to stay married," he says. It is not a question of saying, "Well, you can ignore this person." But he is saying that we need to live in such a way that we are living for Christ. And so he is talking about the unmarried person, saying that it is better to remain that way because you can focus on the Lord; but if you are married, what he is saying is to keep the focus on the Lord. Even though you have to obviously focus on this individual to whom you are married, nonetheless, the focus has to be on Christ first, as though you were not married. But for those who are not married, then you focus on Christ as the Spouse; in that way, you live in such a way as if you are married. And so you can see it from a spiritual perspective, just the opposite of what is there on the natural level.
So too with any of it. If we have a good meal and we are full, then we can look inside spiritually and see where our emptiness lies to be able to see where the heart is longing for something more. If we have everything we need, then we can look inside and see where all of our attachments stand in the way. And where we have more than we need or where we are lacking spiritually or whatever it may be, one can see from a spiritual perspective just the contrary of what it is that we have. If, on the other hand, we are poor, we can turn around in the spiritual life and see where we are rich because we have God and we have everything in Him. It is just the opposite, again, of what it would appear. That is the blessing the Lord is offering in the Beatitudes that He preaches today in the Gospel: It is going to be just the opposite of what you see in the worldly sense. The world, if we are following Christ, will not recognize us as its own; therefore, it is going to be just the opposite of what the world would assume.
So look inside, not outside. Do not try to become more like the worldly, but become more like Christ because, as Saint Paul made very clear, the time is running out. If the time was running out 2,000 years ago, what would he be saying today? He would be jumping up and down and making all kinds of noise to let us know that the time is exceedingly short. We cannot live like the worldly; that is not an option. Well, it is - but not if you want to go to Heaven. And so we need to reject all of that, and we need to live as spiritual persons. We need to live for Christ in this world so that we can be with Him forever "because the world as we know it is passing away," Saint Paul said. Everything that is out there is not going to be there for very long. So do not put all your hopes in all that is out there because it is going to slip through your fingers like water. And where is it going to get you? It is going to take you the wrong direction.
Put the focus on Christ. Those who want to live for this world will reject you, persecute you, insult you, and do all kinds of things. But the Lord says, "Rejoice and be glad for your reward in Heaven is great." What else is there? There is nothing that is more important than that. And that will clearly demonstrate the opposition that we have living on the natural level as opposed to the spiritual level. That will show very clearly the difference between those who are living for this world and those who are living for the next. And so, in all of these things that we can look at, you can ask yourself, "Where is my heart focused? If it is focused on Christ, I'm not going to fit with the people of this world. And if it's focused on this world, I'm not going to fit very well with Christ." That is the dichotomy, and the oppositions are made very clear in the readings today. We need to live in this world as though not in this world. We need to live in this world as pilgrims, as persons passing through, because this is not our true homeland. Our true homeland is Heaven - and it is on there that we must have our hearts set.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.