Reading (Titus 3:1-7) Gospel (St. Luke 17:11-19)
When we hear this description from Saint Paul to Titus of what his life and those of other Christian people used to be like, he tells them they were foolish, disobedient, deluded, slaves of various desires and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful ourselves and hating one another. This is a perfect description of hell. That is what it will be like: hating everyone, hating one another, filled with malice and envy, totally selfish, only interested in the self, seeking whatever you can find for the self – never, of course, being satisfied – being angry, frustrated, disgusted, hateful, and everything else. It is all about the self.
Imagine what life would be like if you and everyone around you was only interested in the self and in nobody else. You would not help anybody and no one would help you. Everybody is only interested in trying to get ahead, but nobody moves ahead at all because they are filled with selfishness and with hatred. That is what it will be about. Now, there are certain areas in our own society that we can look to and we can see a pretty good example of what eternity along those lines would be.
Yet, at the same time, Saint Paul goes on to say, “But when the kindness and generous love of God our savior appeared, not because of any righteous deeds we had done (because we had not; it is a pure gift from God) but because of His mercy, He saved us through a bath of rebirth and renewal of the Holy Spirit. That is exactly what Our Lord is telling us in the Gospel reading: that we have all been cleansed, we have all been healed.
Now the question is, for us, are we still so much caught up in our selfishness and in our lack of gratitude that we fail to turn to God and thank Him for what it is that He has done for us? What happens all too often is that we just simply expect that people are going to do things for us and we simply expect that God is going to do things for us. So when He does, it does not make any difference to us because “that was what He was supposed to be doing anyway”. We become like the lepers who refused to give thanks to God simply because we expected we were going to be healed. And so it is no big deal to us that the Lord worked a miracle for us – and He does it everyday. He does it every time we go to Confession in a particular way, but throughout our day He is there working in our lives, leading us, teaching us, and working one miracle after the next, minute by minute and hour by hour. How often do we even notice? How often do we return to say “thank you” to the Lord? Or is our return, if we return at all, just something selfish: What else can we get for ourselves?
You see, we need to make sure we are doing the right thing for the right reason. And it goes back to recognizing, first and foremost, what God has done for us: that He has called us to Himself, that He has healed us, that He has given us all the grace we need so that we can be saved, so that we can be saved from our own self. Saint Paul makes very clear that this is what we are by ourselves: foolish, disobedient, deluded, slaves of various desires and pleasures, malicious, envious, hating ourselves, and hating one another. By ourselves, that is what we are capable of. The Lord has saved us from ourselves and He has saved us from eternity in hell by His gracious mercy. Not because of anything we have done, not because of any righteousness of our own, but by His gracious mercy.
Therefore, we need to put the self aside. We need to be living for Him. To live for ourselves is going to wind us right back where we started – and that is in hell for eternity – because we have chosen the self over God. But we have been saved from ourselves and we have been saved from an eternity of focusing on the self. So we need to return to the Lord. We need to recognize the gift He has given. We need to be grateful for what it is that He has given and then we need to respond as Saint Paul tells Titus that Christians are supposed to do: to make sure that we are obedient, under control, open to every good enterprise, slandering no one, being peaceful and considerate, and exercising graciousness toward everyone. It is to recognize what God has done for us and to do the same for others in return. The best way of showing gratitude to God is to put the self aside, to live for God and for one another, or as Jesus says simply: to love God with your whole heart and soul and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself. That is what our lives are to be because we have been saved from ourselves and now we should be alive in and for Jesus Christ.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.