Friday February 7, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Fourth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Hebrews 13:1-8) Gospel (St. Mark 6:14-29)
We see in the readings this morning a huge contrast in the way that things are being presented. We hear, for instance, Saint Paul telling us in his Letter to the Hebrews that we are to make sure that we keep our life free from love of money, that we are to be content with what we have, that we have to have confidence in God, that we are to make sure we do not neglect hospitality, and to make sure we are sharing in the imprisonment of those who are imprisoned and with the ill-treated as though it is ourselves, and all these different points that he is making. Then we see in the Gospel reading someone who does exactly the opposite. We see Herod, who is filled with lust over his own daughter because of a dance that she does, and he offers her all kinds of power and all sorts of things. But even her request– which comes from her mother’s own envy and anger – is something that makes no sense because we are told right in the Gospel that Herod thought John was a holy man and he had reverence for him; but, at the same time, it is precisely for this reason that he threw him in prison and kept him bound up. He liked to listen to John the Baptist, but he was perplexed by him. He knew that John the Baptist was preaching the truth, but because the Baptist preached something other than what Herod himself was doing and because it irritated somebody who was close to Herod, he was willing to go against his own conscience and throw John the Baptist in prison.
And so we see the idea of the power that is there, the selfishness, the greed, the lust. The desire for all these self-centered things is what led Herod to do things that he even knew he should not do. It was not that his conscience was so destroyed that he did not know any better, because we are even told that he deeply regretted what the girl asked for. But again, out of love for human respect and that attachment to what others might think of him, he went ahead and had a man killed instead of saying, “That was an inappropriate request and it will not be granted.”
So we see that when we become selfish even human life does not matter – all that matters is the self. We see that happening with abortion; we see it happening with the euthanasia movement; we see it happening all over in our society. We see so many people who do not even recognize the dignity and value of their own lives, and so they are destroying their own selves in so many ways with the drugs and with all the illicit things they get themselves into. We see our teenage kids who have never been taught anything other than selfishness, so now they are encapsulated in their own little world and they sit in front of the TV for hours with video games or they spend the rest of their day with little headphones in their ears listening to their trashy music and they have nothing to do with anyone else because they are the only one who exists. They have little or no conscience and they are willing to do just about anything as long as it might bring some sense of self-pleasure or self-satisfaction. It is no different than what happened with Herod.
We need to learn from these kinds of examples of people who were totally caught up in all of the illicit things because that is still what the devil presents to us: selfishness, power, lust, love of money – all these different things that Herod fell into and all the different things that people in America are falling into. Consequently, the temptations are going to be there for all of us as well. And we need to see exactly where it leads. It leads to not being able to recognize one’s own dignity and, therefore, it leads to a failure to recognize the dignity of anybody else. Human life becomes cheap, and if it is in the way we want to get rid of it because it is inconvenient to us. It leads us to do things that we know are wrong, but because we placed our priorities someplace else, the natural thing that we are going to do is tend toward whatever our top priority is. If our top priority is the self, all of these other things will follow. If our top priority is God, on the other hand, then all of the illicit things will be removed from our lives. The choice is ours.
Our society says, “Look out for Number One,” that is, the self; and if we are looking out for the self, we will be filled with illicit and selfish things. God tells us that the top priority is God. “Looking out for Number One” is to love God with your whole heart and soul and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself. If that is our priority, then all of the illicit things are going to be removed from our lives because we are not going to be filled with selfishness – at least we are going to be fighting against it. There are only those two possibilities because none of us is going to put anything else as the top priority. It is either God or self, and the choice lies with us. The Lord has presented to us very clearly what our priorities ought to be, and in the Gospel reading, we see very clearly what happens if our priorities are wrong. Now we have a choice to make. Our society tells us the self is the top priority. The Gospel tells us God is the top priority. The choice of which will be the top priority in our life lies entirely within our own grasp and we have to make that choice. It is up to us to reject the self and to choose God.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.