September 29, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I (Ezekiel 18:25-28) Reading II (Philippians 2:1-11)
Gospel (St. Matthew 21:28-32)
Saint Paul, in his Letter to the Philippians, asks the people to be of one mind, one heart, and one love; and to have the same attitude as Jesus. It is that one mind and one heart and one love that we must be united in. When we look around at what is going on in the Church today and in the world, I think most of us would have to say, "We can't be of one mind with some of this stuff." And we cannot. Obviously, we cannot support anything that is wrong; anything that is sinful must be completely rejected. As Pope Paul VI said over 30 years ago, "The smoke of Satan has entered the Church." And where the smoke of Satan has entered, we must reject, but that does not mean we reject the Church. Because some of the sins have been exposed publicly now - and in fact it is the shepherds (or those who are supposed to be the shepherds) who are the ones leading the way in sin - we do not reject the Good Shepherd because some of the hirelings are not doing what they are supposed to do. That is the point we need to be careful of. We need to be of one heart and one mind with The Shepherd, with Jesus Christ.
We need to have the same attitude as Christ, Saint Paul says. And the attitude of Christ was to make Himself the servant of all, to make Himself the slave, to make Himself the one who was lower than everyone else. That is exactly what Saint Paul tells each one of us that we are to do as well: to be humble and think of others as being more important than we are. That is not exactly the American Way. "Looking out for Number One" does not normally suggest being humble and putting yourself at the service of everyone else. Sadly for Americans, "Looking out for Number One" does not mean looking out for God. "Looking out for Number One" means being selfish, being ambitious, making sure that [our own] wants and desires are taken care of, and it does not really matter a whole lot what anybody else thinks, wants, or desires, let alone what they need. What we need to be able to do then is look at what Saint Paul tells us, and that is to make sure we do not act out of selfishness or out of vainglory, but rather that we act out of humility. This is not something which is going to be encouraged or supported by our society. It is not something which is particularly encouraged or supported even by many within the Church. But there is One who does encourage and support it - and that is Jesus, the One who did nothing out of selfishness and nothing out of vainglory. Everything He did was out of charity, out of service to us, and out of a desire to give greater honor and glory to His heavenly Father. That is exactly what each one of us is called to.
It is when we see things from that perspective that we are not going to have the same complaint as we hear God speaking to the people of Israel: God's ways are unfair! How many times have we said that or something very similar! We look at what happens in our lives and we think that God is not fair. There are ways we can understand why we would say that, and it has been the same problem for centuries. It is right in the Scriptures, it is right in the Psalms - and those were written 3,000 years ago: Why does the way of the wicked prosper? But those who want to do Your Will, on the other hand, they have to suffer; they have to struggle and they are treated unjustly. Why is it that if we want to do it God's way we get kicked around? Why is it that if we want to do what is right we are not accepted, but rather we are rejected by those around us, even by those who want to purport to be good Christians, and even good Catholics? Yet when you try to do what is right, they do not really seem to want to have a whole lot to do with you. It is those sorts of things and the suffering that comes into our lives when we realize that those who are off doing foolish things, selfish and sinful things, do not have to suffer a whole lot. Three thousand years ago, King David said: Their bodies are sound and sleek; they do not have to suffer like other men. Yet they are the ones who are doing wrong, and we look at it and say, "God's ways are not fair!"
All we need to do, again, is look at the Cross and we see someone who is perfectly innocent - in fact, we see God, who is on the Cross for us. That is the epitomy of unfairness. But it was not a question of what was fair or unfair; it was a question of charity. God's way is perfectly just, but God's way is perfectly charitable. What He does is done out of love for us. There is a priest of the diocese who died a number of years ago and anytime you would ask him how he was doing, or if he would come over for dinner and you would ask him how he was, or if you would ask him how things were going in his little apartment that he had in his retirement, his answer was always the same. He would just simply say, "It's better than what I deserve." If we would all adopt that kind of attitude, "It's better than what I deserve"! All we need to do is look at our sins, and then ask yourself if God's way is unfair. Think of what it is we have done to Him and we keep coming back and asking Him to forgive us - and He does - and then He takes a little tiny sliver of the Cross and He lays it on our shoulder and we start to complain. We say, "It's unfair! God doesn't love me anymore. Why does He hate me so much, making me suffer like this?" And if we adjust to having that little sliver laid on our shoulder, then He'll take it and stick it into our arm. Then we really complain, because it might actually draw some blood; it might get infected and it really hurts. We whine and complain. Rather than looking at God, we put the focus on ourselves; and, out of selfishness, we do not want to do what God is asking of us. But if we were to take a true inventory of our own selves, if we were to look at our sinfulness rather than trying to tell God how wonderful we are and that we really should not have to be doing all this suffering anyway, because, after all, it is quite a favor to Him that we are even here - if, on the other hand, we would get rid of all the vainglory and all the arrogance and we would take on the attitude of Christ then we would have a whole different perspective.
For Our Lord, He tells us it was the hour of His glory that He went to the Cross. He tells us that was the very purpose for which He came into this world. And then He asks that we would share in His glory, that we would share in His work of redemption, that we would actually have a share in the work of the salvation of souls by taking on that little tiny sliver of the Cross - and we complain and say that His way is unfair. You see, if we would get the focus off of the self and put it on Christ and put it on the love of neighbor, that little sliver is not going to seem quite so bad anymore. If we look only at the pain it causes us then in our own minds the pain keeps getting worse. But if we look at what we can offer up for others then suddenly the pain really is not very bad; it becomes acceptable because we can see it objectively rather than merely subjectively. That is, we can see it in the light of salvation.
If the Lord were to stand before you today and look you right in the face and say, "I have an offer for you. I would like you to share in the work of the salvation of souls. I would like you to take a part in Redemption." There is no greater privilege in the whole world. All of us, I hope and pray, would absolutely say "yes" without hesitation to share in the work of Christ, to be able to bring souls to Heaven, to be able to participate in the work of redemption. We would all say "yes" to that, until He says, "Good. Let Me take this little sliver of the Cross and put it right on your shoulder." Then what most of us would say is: "Wait, wait, wait. That's not what I intended. That's not what I thought You meant. That wasn't my idea of what sharing in the work of redemption and the salvation of souls was all about." It's not about what our idea was; it's about what is God's idea.
We need to be of one mind and one heart with Jesus Christ; otherwise, what happens is that we become like the son in the Gospel reading. The Lord says, "I would like you to be able to go out into the vineyard. I want you to share in the work of salvation," and we say, "Yes!" and then He says, "Now, take up this little piece of the Cross," and we say, "Well, I don't want to do that." There may be many of us who may not be too excited about taking up the Cross but at least are willing to say "yes"; then we are much more like the second son who did the will of the father. But if we just simply try in all of our generosity to say "yes" to the Lord and then we walk in the other direction, we are filled with selfishness and with vainglory. We want to do it our way and not His way. Saint Paul prays that the people would complete his joy by being of one heart and one mind. Jesus also prayed the same thing and He told us that in the gift He was offering us His joy would be ours and our joy would be complete. That gift is the Cross; that gift is an opportunity to share in His work - in the most glorious and wonderful work that anyone could ever take part in. But it requires the Cross and there can be no mistaking that.
So the Lord asks each one of us to go out into the vineyard. He asks each one of us to take up our share in the work of redemption, and with Saint Paul to be able to say, I make up in my body for what is lacking in the suffering of Christ, for the sake of His body, the Church. Are we willing to do that? Not to be able to look selfishly and say, "How come the wicked prosper and I have to suffer? God's ways are unfair!" Not to say, "Yes, I will do it," and then turn around and get caught up in our selfishness and fail to do the Will of God. But to go to prayer, to seek the mind of Christ, to seek the heart of Christ, to follow the Good Shepherd and be of one heart and one mind - not with the sins of the world and not with the sins of the Church, not to follow a bad shepherd out into the desert - but to be of one heart and one mind with our Good Shepherd, to be willing to accept what He wants, what He asks of us, to humble ourselves and with the attitude of Christ to place ourselves at the service of others for the greater glory of God rather than to focus on serving ourselves for the greater glory of self. That is what Christ is asking of us today. When we are able to see it from His perspective, when we are willing to do the work that He is asking us to do, we will recognize that it is not unfair, but rather, it is a privilege and it is the greatest privilege. If there is anything unfair it is that others refuse Christ; and the greatest lack of generosity and of justice is that we refuse Christ - that is unfair. Those are our ways, not His ways. Our ways are not fair; His ways are perfectly just. Out of justice and out of love, He is asking each one of us to go out into the vineyard; not to say "yes" and turn to ourselves, but to say "yes" and do the work that He is asking of us: to take up the Cross and follow Him.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.