Monday March 10, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier First Week of Lent
Reading (Leviticus 19:1-2, 11-18) Gospel (St. Matthew 25:31-46)
In the first reading today, we heard in the Book of Leviticus the Lord telling the people of Israel that they must be holy because He, the Lord, their God, is holy. This makes perfect sense considering, first, that we are made in His image and likeness; therefore, being made in the image of God, we must be like God – and God is holy. At the same time, it was more incumbent upon the people of Israel to be holy because they were the chosen people of God. If that is the case, then ask yourself about us, that is, we are incorporated into Christ, we are members of Jesus Christ, and we are children of God, sharing in His life, sharing in His divine nature. Therefore, it is even more incumbent upon us than it was upon the people of Israel to be holy. And so we have an obligation to strive for profound holiness.
But the Lord also makes very clear in what it is that He is telling us in the readings today that holiness is not merely something about the self, but it also is going to have to do with others. In the final line down at the very end of the first reading, we heard the words “Love your neighbor as yourself.” We also know that Our Lord told us that the two greatest commandments in the whole law are to love God with our whole heart and soul and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Now, this being the case, one could ask, “How?” because sometimes if we think of a person who is holy, we might think of the proverbial hermit on the top of the mountain someplace – and there is a point of holiness to that, there is no doubt – but what the Lord is telling us today is that the holiness is also going to be found in our actions. We hear this whole series of things that the Lord tells us: We cannot steal, we cannot lie, we cannot defraud, we cannot curse death, we cannot put a stumbling block before the blind, we shall not act dishonestly in rendering judgment, all these things in dealing with other people. So to love our neighbor as ourselves is not just an internal thing, but it is going to come out in our actions.
And the Lord made this very clear as well: that because of our incorporation into Christ, what we do to one another we do to Him. If we are going to love God with our whole heart and soul and strength, and if we are going to love our neighbor as ourselves, those become one and the same because if you are a member of Jesus Christ, the way that I treat you is the way that I treat Jesus. That is why Our Lord could say, “What you did for the least of My brothers, you did to Me; and what you failed to do for the least of My brothers, you failed to do for Me.” The Lord again goes through this whole series of things and talks about when He was ill or in prison or when He was hungry or thirsty and when He had all these different needs, and what was the response? So when we think about our love for neighbor, again, it is not just an interior thing, saying, “Well, I’ll pray for you.” We need to pray for one another, but it is also in the actions and in the attitudes, in the dispositions of heart.
As we continue to look at what God is asking of us, He is going to call us to greater and greater holiness, which means He is going to ask more and more difficult things of us. He is going to ask us to die to self. He is going to ask us to be charitable to others – and in more difficult situations. That is the only way that this is going to grow. We need, then, to be very firmly and deeply rooted in prayer. We need to be seeking God with our whole heart and soul and strength because we realize that we cannot do it by ourselves. If you made the grand resolution today that from this point forward you are going to serve the people around you to the best of your ability, by eight o’clock this morning you will be falling flat on your face because you cannot do it by yourself. Unless it is the Lord working through you, it is not going to be able to be done. So we need to keep our focus on Him, we need to be seeking Him, and then we need to allow Him to work in us and through us. That is the way we need to do this. It has to be in the proper order: Love God first, and flowing from that is love for neighbor. And that love for neighbor is going to come out in our actions as is made very clear. That is the holiness Our Lord is asking of us: to be truly holy – not to look holy, not to act holy – to be holy. And it is a necessity; it is not a nice idea. It is going to be the point of judgment because we are members of Jesus Christ, we share the divine nature, we share the divine life, and we are to be holy because He is holy.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.