Tuesday July 15, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier†† Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Exodus 2:1-15a)† Gospel (St. Matthew 11:20-24)
In the readings today, we hear about those who have been favored in a very particular way by Our Lord, whether that be Moses who was chosen from the time before his birth to be the one whom God would use to bring the Chosen People out of the land of Egypt and therefore the manner in which his life was spared when he was a baby, the fact of being adopted by Pharaohís own daughter, raised and nursed by his own mother and the like, all these extraordinary things that happened to him while the Egyptians were killing all of the other Hebrew boys; and when we look at the Gospel, we see the people of these three towns where Jesus did most of His preaching and worked the majority of His miracles, and they had failed to repent.
When we look at Mosesí life, it would be easy for him to have just simply forgotten what his real background was and just be considered the son of the daughter of Pharaoh. After all, he had been legally adopted and he could have just remained that way. But instead, he chose to unite himself with his own people when he became an adult. Of course, what he did in killing somebody was not the right thing, but God also uses that in Mosesí own life to be able to bring about a deeper repentance, to make him recognize what it was that he had done and what it was that God was asking him to do. And so that sin became the means for his turning around. When we look at that as compared to the Gospel reading, Jesus had worked great miracles and preached wonderful things in these towns, but these people did not repent. Moses, on the other hand, when he recognized his own sin, that is what turned him around to repentance.
Now we look at ourselves and we realize that we are chosen ones. We are the ones, now, whom God has called by name. We are the ones He has set aside for His own purpose. He has done extraordinary things in all of our lives and I think we all have to be willing to admit that. And what has it done for us? We have not necessarily turned our lives over to Christ because of that; we have not necessarily repented because we have seen what He has done; but rather, like these towns, we have probably taken it for granted. We like having extraordinary things done and we get used to it, so we do not really do much about it. On the other hand, like Moses, when we recognize our sinfulness, that becomes the means of our repentance. For Moses, God had done great and extraordinary things which did not convert him. But only when he had to come face to face with his own sinfulness was he converted. And I suspect for most of us it is no different. It is only when we see our sinfulness in the face of Godís goodness that we recognize what we have done and we can finally turn our lives around.
So no matter what sins we may have committed, all of us have to recognize that God has used precisely those horrible things that we have done to bring about the greatest good Ė and that is our conversion. Now that does not mean we should all go out and sin some more so that God can work great things from it, but rather it is to keep always before our eyes our sinfulness. Not for the purpose of beating ourselves up and telling ourselves what horrible people we are, that is not what God wants. It is not for purposes of self pity or for anything else, but rather simply for the purpose of knowing that the only thing we can do by ourselves is to sin. And we can really do quite a good job of that. But only by Godís grace are we able to overcome sin and to do His Will. When we look at our sinfulness and Godís mercy, that should spur us on to an even deeper conversion, to an even greater love for God, to a greater gratitude for what it is that He has done and continues to do in our lives.
That is the purpose of keeping our sinfulness before our faces. God does not allow us to forget these things. He leaves them there not only for our humility, but especially for our salvation, because if all we did was pay attention to the wonderful things He has done for us, we would become like these three towns: We would become bloated with our own self-importance; we would think it is wonderful that the Lord is doing things for us; but we would forget who we really are and we would probably wind up in hell for eternity because we get caught up in ourselves and in our pride. So God in His mercy does not allow that. He reminds us of our sinfulness even though we have been forgiven. He keeps that before us. Our weakness always has to go before us because only when we recognize our weakness are we willing to depend on Him, only when we recognize our sinfulness are we willing to humble ourselves in His presence.
That is what He desires: a humble broken heart, one who recognizes what we are capable of. In the order of good, we are capable of nothing without His grace. In the order of evil, we are capable of just about anything. When we can keep that clearly in mind, then we will be able to rely on Him to reject the idea that we can do something good by ourselves. We will rely on His strength and on His grace, not only for forgiveness, but for the salvation which we desire and for that union with Christ which is the goal of our lives.
*† This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.