Friday September 13, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (1 Corinthians 9:16-19, 22b-27) Gospel (St. Luke 6:39-42)
Saint Paul, in the first reading this morning, tells us that he is running the race so as to win. The race is the race through this life toward Heaven, and he is telling us it is a contest. It is not something which one can just sit back and say, "Well, I believe in Jesus so I'm going to Heaven." In fact, he makes it very clear that it is just the opposite, he says, "I drive and train my body for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself would be disqualified." Others might be saved through his preaching, but he may not go to Heaven himself unless he disciplines himself. And he talks about how athletes have to discipline themselves, but even with that, as many runners as there are, only one wins the race. Thankfully, more than one will win the race in this case; but nonetheless, he is telling us that we need to keep our goal on the finish line. We need to keep our eyes focused there and we need to be running so as to win.
It is not merely a matter of saying, "Well, let me just run in such a way that hopefully I'll be able to cross the finish line." That is kind of minimalistic. "If I can conserve my energy, I can probably get to the finish line without even having to breathe very hard." What kind of a race is that going to be? But that is the race a lot of Christian people are running. They are not trying very hard; they are not disciplining themselves very much; they are totally caught up in themselves and the world. It is basically the attitude of "How much can I get away with and still get to Heaven?" It is totally the wrong attitude. "How can I make it into the very last place in Heaven? How is it possible for me to just barely eke it in so I can have the most of everything this world has to offer, but I can still get my toe into the pool?" What a lousy attitude! That is not the Christian attitude.
The Lord tells us in the Gospel reading to get the plank out of our own eye. That's the plank! What we need to remove is all the selfishness, all the minimalism that we live with, and we need to start to run the race so as to win, to start to discipline ourselves so that we are going to be able to run the race with everything that we have. The Lord does not care if we come in first or second or third or last; what He cares about is that we are trying our best, that we are running with everything we have. It may be that there is somebody who is a very slow runner (to put it back into the race thing), and so somebody who is in great shape and is a sprinter might be able to jog and still go faster than the one who is very slow. Yet, in that case, even though the one who jogged may have come in ahead of the one who is a slow runner, God is going to condemn the one who just simply jogged along because he did not try, he did not put forth the effort, he did not do the best that he could have done.
Saint Paul tells us that he has made himself the slave of all so that he could win at least some. That is the lesson we need to learn. It's not about us - it's about Jesus Christ, and it's about the salvation of souls. Our task is to make ourselves the slaves of all, it is to live the Gospel. For Saint Paul, that was to preach, and he tells us he has been given a commission. If he does it willfully, he says that he is going to receive his reward; but even if he does not, he is still under an obligation because it is the Will of God and it is the vocation to which Saint Paul had been called. He did not have a choice; he had to preach the Gospel, and he had to do it free of charge.
Now each one of us, then, can look at our own vocation, and each one of us must embrace it and say, "This is the Will of God for me." No matter what your vocation is, you must then make yourself a slave of those people to whose care God has entrusted you so that you will be able to serve them free of charge. And even if you do not want to do it willfully, you still have an obligation. Every parent understands that. There are times when you do not feel like doing certain things, but you do not have a choice, so you do it, even though you do not want to. That is the way it must be for all of us. And we must get to the point where it is not just doing it because we have to, but that we do it out of love for God and love for neighbor so that we are making ourselves the slave of all so as to serve all.
That is what our call is, each and every one of us. It is to live the Gospel and it is to preach the Gospel in whatever form that is to be, according to our own state in life. That is what God is asking of each one of us: It is to make ourselves the least, to make ourselves the servant and the slave of all - which is exactly what Jesus told us we are supposed to do - so that we can serve others and bring as many as possible to Heaven.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.