October 11, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Friday Twenty-seventh Week of Ordinary Time
Reading I (Galatians 3:7-14) Gospel (St. Luke 11:15-26)
The first reading today, in St. Paulís letter to the Galatians, we hear part of what is his greatest rabbinic argument in all of the New Testament. It becomes a very detailed and very involved argument with regard to faith. The question is, are you saved by works of the law, or are you saved by faith in Jesus Christ? What he is telling us, is that even from the time of Abraham, the great Patriarch, God made very clear that Abraham was made righteous by faith, not by works of the law. This is because Abraham was called righteous by faith, before he was circumcised, and if that is the case, then it is not due to the works of the law, and the circumcision in particular. This, again, is the problem that the Galatians were having, they thought they needed to be circumcised and become Jews before they could become Christians. What St. Paul is saying is, if you go back and look, Abraham was saved by faith, he was already called righteous before he was circumcised. Therefore one who has faith is a child of Abraham.
For the Jewish people, one became a child of Abraham at the time of circumcision; similar to the way we can say that we become children of God at the moment of baptism, when we are baptized into Christ. The circumcision was entrance into the covenant of the Old Testament. St. Paul, recognizing now that there is a new covenant is saying, this is no longer the case. You no longer need to do what the old covenant required because we have a new covenant which supercedes it. All we need is to live according to the norms of the new covenant, which is by faith, not simply by external works. That is the point that he is trying to get at. So for those of us who have faith, we are justified in that faith.
It is not justified in the sense that non-Catholic Christians think. They that as long as you believe in Jesus, you are going straight to heaven; you cannot do anything wrong; you cannot lose your salvation or anything like that. That is a false faith. It is a surface level faith. It is a nice feeling that Jesus died for my sins, so therefore I am set. Faith has a whole component of the dogmatic element. We need to believe in what Jesus taught. We need to believe in the person of Jesus Christ, not just generically in the person of Jesus, but in who He is and in what He teaches. We must believe in every single teaching of Jesus Christ in order to have the virtue of faith. How do we know every single teaching of Christ? Through the Church, because the Church is Jesus Christ. Therefore the teaching of the Church is the teaching of Christ. The Church is the authentic interpreter then of the Scriptures and of the teaching of the Lord. We need to look and say, if we have faith, if we profess faith in Jesus Christ, then we are going to have faith in the Church that He founded, and in all the teachings of that Church, because they are the teachings of Jesus Christ. They have the full authority of Christ. So we can say as Jesus did in the Gospel reading today, if this is the case, then the kingdom of God is upon you. In fact, you have been incorporated into the kingdom of God.
The kingdom of God is within you, but that again is only by faith, because there is no external indication that that is the case in any of our lives. It is something which is internal and something which we must accept on faith, and then by faith to live it. That kingdom of God which is within, is the fullness of the truth and the fullness of the truth is person of Jesus Christ, and the Holy Trinity dwells within each one of us.
It is by faith then that we are saved. It is by faith that we have all of the gifts that God grants to us, but we must embrace that faith internally. We must live it by accepting the fullness of the truth that has been placed within us, and then live according to what it is that we believe. That is what Abraham did, he believed and he was called righteous, and because of his faith, he entered into the covenant and had himself circumcised. All of those who are children of Abraham have faith and because they have faith, not any longer in the old covenant, but in the new, they embrace that faith within. They believe in every teaching of Jesus Christ, and in the fullness of His person and they live that teaching. The faith comes first, and then we live what we believe. That is what St. Paul is telling the Galatians they have to do. They are already justified by faith, and now they must live what they believe.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.