January 7, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Tuesday After Epiphany
Reading (1 John 4:7-10) Gospel (St. Mark 6:34-44)
Saint John tells us in the first reading that we are to love one another because God is love. The reality of the matter is that we are children of God. We are incorporated into Jesus Christ; therefore, each one of us, made in the image and likeness of God and now members of God Himself, is also made to love. It is the very purpose of our being, but Original Sin has caused us so much difficulty that, for most human beings, they have no real clue what love is. It is the very purpose of our creation and we do not even know how to do it, let alone what it even is. That is the problem most people have.
If you look around our society today, we have millions of people running around looking for love. They do not know what it is; they do not know where they are going to find it; all they know is that there is an emptiness inside of themselves and they are trying to fill it up, but they have no idea what will fill it up. And in our society, where the media pounds against us – over and over and over, thousands of times a day – that it is all about the self, they then look around to see what selfish things they can do to make themselves feel better. And it is not just “they” – it is pretty much all of us, so we need to learn what is going to fulfill us. We need to learn what true love is.
Saint John says, “This is love, not that we have loved God, but that He has loved us and He has sent His Son as an expiation for our sins.” That is what real love is all about. It is not about the self; it is about the other; it is about giving; it is about pouring one’s self out; it is about serving others; it is about dying to self in order to live for someone else. That is exactly the opposite of what people of our society have been taught, so they keep running around looking for love because they do not know what it is. They think it is something about the self, and it is exactly the opposite: It is to sacrifice the self. But try to tell somebody of the present generation (or the last two generations, for all that matters) that they have to sacrifice themselves if they want to be fulfilled. That would be so contrary to anything they have ever been taught in this society that they will not understand it and they will rebel against it almost universally.
All you need to do is look at the little guys these days, the young kids; try to take their video games away and watch their response, or try to take some of their unfortunate things away. I recall speaking to a group of second graders one day, a few years ago. They sat there very calmly as I was talking until I mentioned to them that Pokemon cards were of the devil and they needed to throw them away. There was almost a riot. They started screaming and yelling. Oh, it was ugly – and all about Pokemon cards! You would have thought I had done something physically to them instead of just simply telling them that they needed to get rid of something evil. But they were so caught up in these things that the idea of getting rid of something was more than they could handle – and these were second graders! That is how much we have taught our young children in this society to be selfish.
And so Jesus continues to show us that selflessness. Just as He took the loaves and the fish and gave them to the five thousand, so now He continues to give Himself to us. He continues to teach us love because He is love. Every time when we come to Mass and we receive Him in Holy Communion, every time when we come to Mass and He sacrifices Himself on the altar, He is teaching us love. But the difficulty for us is that we are so often caught up in the self that we do not recognize what it is that He is doing and we miss the gift and the sacrifice that is being offered. It just becomes a routine thing for us. In fact, it gets to the point in many people’s lives where Communion becomes something selfish, and so they take the gift which Jesus is offering rather than to receive the gift which Jesus is offering. To take it is selfish; to receive it is to offer a gift in return. We are to receive Our Lord and we are to offer ourselves back to Him in return, as He offers Himself to us. We are to learn from Him how to love. We are to learn from His example.
This should not be too difficult for us because we are members of Jesus Christ, we are incorporated into Him Who is love, and Who is the perfect love of the Father. So it is right there for us. It is in our very nature by creation; it is right there in the divine nature in which we share through Baptism; and it is there in our dignity as members of Christ. We are made to love and to be loved. We simply need to learn what that means and then put it into practice.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.