Monday June 16, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (2 Corinthians 6:1-10) Gospel (St. Matthew 5:38-42)
Saint Paul, in his First Letter to the Corinthians, says to us that as our fellow worker he appeals to us not to receive the grace of God in vain. Now one could ask how we could receive the grace of God in vain, or, on the other hand, what would it look like if we are not receiving the grace of God in vain. To receive the grace of God in vain simply implies that the very purpose for which God is giving the grace is not being fulfilled. There is a reason for every single grace that the Lord gives to us and it is to allow us to love Him more perfectly, it is to allow us to do His Will in all things. The grace of God is what allows us to be able to operate on that divine level of which we have so often spoken. And so it is to be able to do things that lead us toward Heaven. It is not to merely do things on the natural level and in a natural way, but rather it is to allow us to do things that will bring ourselves and others closer to salvation. So that means to do things that even may appear natural but to do them for a supernatural reason. It is also what allows us to be able to discern the Will of God and carry it out. It allows us to do things that, on one level, seem to be completely impossible or something that we would normally quickly give up on, whatever it may be.
Saint Paul, then, talks about what the grace of God has done in his ministry. Just think, if God asked you to go around and preach in all of the areas around where we live and what you would be able to say is that you commend yourselves to the Lord in everything, through much endurance, afflictions, hardships, constraints, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, vigils, fasts, and so on. This is what the grace of God allows. And it allows, again, for what would appear on the natural level to be total foolishness, just like what Jesus is saying in the Gospel today: “If someone hits you on the right cheek, turn and offer him the other one as well. If someone wants to go to court over your cloak, give him your tunic also. If someone presses you into service for one mile, go two miles.” That is not what happens on the natural level, so this is something which is supernatural. And it is not doing whatever we are doing for a natural-level reason, but it is doing it for a supernatural reason – for the good of the other person and to lead ourselves closer to Heaven.
So when Saint Paul, then, goes through that whole series of things toward the end of today’s readings of how they are thought of one way on the natural level yet on the supernatural level it is entirely different, he says, “We are treated as deceivers and yet we are truthful.” They thought that they were lying because they were preaching a doctrine entirely different from what the pagans knew. They told the truth. “As unrecognized and yet acknowledged.” They tried to ignored them and yet they could not do so. “As dying, and yet we live; as chastised but not put to death; sorrowing yet always rejoicing; as poor yet enriching many; as having nothing but possessing all things.” This is the work of God’s grace within their lives. It is to be able to see how things in a supernatural way and in a spiritual way are in fact exactly opposite of what they appear to be on the natural level. And what people might think and what it might appear is exactly the opposite of what God is doing within the soul. That is the grace of God at work.
This is what he is appealing to us: to make sure that the grace of God is not received in vain. And he tells us, “Now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation.” Do not let the grace of God pass you by because it will not be given that way again. There will be other graces given for other things, but grace given today is given for today, and if we allow it to pass by we do not grow in holiness. We do not grow closer to God or closer to Heaven, but in fact we move the other direction. And so the Lord in His mercy is offering us His grace, and we need to choose to cooperate. God gave us a free will. He will not ever force us to cooperate with His grace. He offers it to us and invites us. We have to choose it. That is why Saint Paul does not say that the grace of God is at work in you and it is not in vain, but rather he appeals to us, asking us to make the choice to cooperate so that the grace of God will not be received in vain.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording with minimal editing.