Tuesday March 18, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Second Week of Lent
Reading (Isaiah 1:10, 16-20) Gospel (St. Matthew 23:1-12)
In the first reading today from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, we have a message of great hope for anyone who is a sinner, for anyone looking at their own sinfulness and wondering if God would be able to forgive them. We hear that God, speaking through Isaiah, uses the example of the princes of Sodom and the people of Gomorrah, two places of the Old Testament that would be known as the most sinful, as having the reputation of being the worst among the worst for what it is that they did. And so, having used that as the title that God is addressing to the people of Israel, He then says, “Wash yourselves clean!” and tells them that even if their sins be like scarlet, He will make them white as wool, and if they are crimson red, He will make them white as snow. He is going to wipe them away; He is going to completely remove them; but, of course, it requires a couple of things on our part. He tells us that we have to put away our misdeeds, we have to cease doing evil, we need to learn to do good, to make justice the aim and redress the wrong, hear the orphan’s plea, and so on. So we have to begin to do what is right. It is not enough just to say, “Well, I know that it’s wrong, but so what?” We need to amend our lives; there is a necessity of change.
Then He tells us also in the Gospel reading today that we have to be humble. “Whoever humbles himself will be exalted; whoever exalts himself will be humbled.” If we are humble, if we come before the Lord and confess our sins, if we have the intention to change our lives, then we can be guaranteed that we are going to be forgiven of our sins, that it is not going to be an issue for us. It is something many people fear, thinking that God cannot forgive them, as though somehow their sins were bigger than God, which is a pure act of arrogance anyway, thinking that we can do something that is so big that not even God can handle it. We – in our puny, human, finite nature – think that we can do something greater than God – Who is all encompassing and infinite – it does not make a whole lot of sense. But even so, the devil is very shrewd and very subtle, and he lays these things before people to trip them up.
And so it is the reading that we have today and many others like it that we need to keep in mind for ourselves and for those who struggle: that God is merciful, that He wants to forgive our sins. He wants to forgive our sins infinitely more than we want our sins forgiven, but He is also just and He is not simply going to wipe them out without any act on our part. He gave us a free will and we have to exercise that free will. So we have to repent of our sins; we have to intend to stop doing them. Now that is different from, in weakness, falling back into the sin. If you go to Confession with the intention of sinning again, you cannot be forgiven. If you go to Confession with the intention of changing your life, but knowing in your weakness you probably will fall, you can be forgiven. It is the intention that is important. We have to intend to amend our lives; we have to intend to change, to start doing what is right and stop doing what is wrong. Then it does not matter what the sin is. Think of the most hideous thing that you can imagine – it is as nothing for God. The worst sin we can commit is like a piece of dust by comparison to God’s infinite mercy. There is nothing that God cannot handle as long as we are humble, repentant, and intending to change our lives. If those things are there, everything will be washed away. Even if our sins be scarlet red, He will make them white as snow; and if they are crimson red, He will change them and make them white as wool. That is the promise of God. No matter how bad they are, He will forgive, as long as our disposition is correct.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.