February 13, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Fifth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Genesis 2:18-25) Gospel (St. Mark 7:24-30)
In the readings today, we see a couple of things that we must keep in mind as we try to deal with balance and the question of who we are. First of all, we see the creation of Eve, of the woman. God had created Adam, and Adam being alone had to recognize that he alone was a person. God made all the animals and brought them to Adam. Adam named each of the animals and thereby came to the first realization that, of everything else on the face of the earth, he alone was a person, he alone was made in the image and likeness of God, and he alone had the capacity to love and to be loved.
The problem is he did not have anyone to be able to love and no one to love him in return, because an animal cannot do that. An animal can emote; an animal cannot love. Consequently, Adam had this ability to be able to love another person but there was no other person to love. That was what God needed him to recognize: that he was different from all the animals. It is amazing how over the years things get messed up and now people have bumper stickers that say “Animals are People Too” – no, they are not. Animals are animals and people are people. We need to keep that distinction very clear, as we see in the reading today.
So then God creates Eve. And when Adam wakes up from his sleep, he not only sees the most extraordinary of all of God’s creation, the most beautiful, but he also finds a person, one who is equal to him in every way. Yet at the same time, if we compare this with what we saw a couple of days ago, in God’s creation there is an order of perfection as He creates, so too, the woman being the last creature made also tells us that she is the most perfect of all creatures that God made, which we also see, of course, in Our Blessed Lady – the most perfect human person to have ever lived and who ever will live. As we go along, that perfection, I should point out, does not mean an inequality as far as personhood goes. We are radically equal. We are both made in the image and likeness of God and we are both equal in that sense: in being human, in being persons, in being in the image of God. A woman too, then, is made to love and to be loved just as the man was, and made for one another. We have seen already that in our creation God made us very good. Now we see the goodness that He has given us: the ability to be like Him, to love and to be loved just as He is able to do.
At the same time, if we look at the Gospel, we see this woman who comes to the Lord and says to Him, “Even the dogs get to eat the scraps that fall from the table.” So we see that proper balance we have to have. The saints tell us that they are the worst of all people who have ever lived, that they are wretched, that they are all these other things and people look at that and say, “See, the saints thought that they were worthless!” – but not in the sense that people with low self-esteem think they are worthless. The saints saw themselves in the light of God; and by comparison to God, we are barely a speck of dust. Yet at the same time, we have this immense dignity, so dignified in fact that the Son of God took on our human nature, which tells us just how good that nature is. And yet, because of our sins, we also recognize what we have done to God in that relationship.
So we have, on one hand, the dignity that God has given to us; and we have, on the other hand, the way we have dealt with that dignity. We cannot remove our dignity, we cannot even diminish the dignity, but we an act against it. And so when we see our own sinfulness and see how small we are that is the balance. If we run around merely thinking that we are very good, we could fall into the problem of pride and run around thinking that we are somehow God’s gift to creation. God does not want that. At the same time, if we look at ourselves and say, “Well, even the dogs get to eat the scraps that fall from the table,” then we are going to start thinking we are worthless, we are no good, and all these sorts of things. We need to have the balance to recognize our dignity, to uphold that dignity, and to act according to that dignity; and, at the same time, to recognize how small we are in the sight of God and what we have done as far as our sins are concerned. We have done nothing to deserve God’s love – and we cannot, for all that matters – but God loves us simply because He made us to be loved.
It is that balance that we need to maintain. Out of balance on either end is going to throw us completely off and so we need to find that proper balance in looking at ourselves and seeing ourselves the way God sees us. That is what we need to be about. That is not always an easy balance to find, but that is what the saints were able to find and that is what each one of us needs to be able to recognize as well. God obviously wants us to recognize our dignity: He put it on the first page of the Bible knowing fully well that many people would read the first page and not much beyond. It is right there so that we cannot miss it because it is very evident to us how undignified we have acted. But we need to balance that, and that is what God wants us to understand: to look at that proper balance, to recognize our sinfulness, to recognize the evil that we have done in our lives, but also to recognize that does not make us evil, because by nature we are not.
So we need to recognize and balance our dignity and understand always and keep it before us who we are. We are persons. We are made in the image and likeness of God. We are made to love and to be loved. Through Baptism we have been elevated to become children of God, united with Him, members of His Son, and sharing in the divine life and the divine nature. That is the dignity we have, and it is that dignity that we must keep always before us and keep balanced with our actions that do not always follow very well from our dignity, but it cannot take that dignity away. And especially in our day, when all of this has been denied through our secularization of this society, it is imperative that we keep that dignity before us and that we strive to act according to the dignity that God has created in us.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.