Friday August 8, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Deuteronomy 4:32-40) Gospel (St. Matthew 16:24-28)
In the first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses tells the people of Israel that they must know, and fix in their heart, that the Lord is God in the heavens above and on earth below, and that there is no other. It is just that simple. There is only one God and there can only be one God because God is perfect. If God was not perfect there could be any number of little gods, just like the mythology with all their little gods because they are just like we are; they are very imperfect, even sinful in many ways. And if that is the case, then you may as well worship yourself. Why worship somebody else if they are just like you? Just look around and ask yourself, “Would you want to worship the person who is sitting next to you?” They would be very imperfect just like any false god would be imperfect. Obviously, we know the answer to that, and so there is only one God. And there can only be one God because if there were two perfect gods and both were perfect they would be identical, and if they were identical there could only be one anyhow. Therefore, there can only be one God.
So we need to make a choice of who we are going to worship because we know that all too often we do place our worship onto something other than God. Not that we are actually bowing down and praying to something or worshiping someone other than God, but the fact is that in many of our lives the place where we place most of our emphasis and our priority is anyplace other than God. Even though in our minds God may be the top priority, in our hearts it may be very different from that.
Then we need to consider what Our Lord has told us in the Gospel reading. He asks the simple question: What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and lose his soul in the process? That is what it really comes down to. Now that would still be a very selfish reason for doing anything, that is, if we would say, “Well, the reason I want to worship God is because I don’t want to go to hell.” That is a good enough reason to keep us out of hell, but it is not really the best reason for doing anything. God is love, and God wants us to love Him and He wants us to be loved by Him. He wants us to be able to share in His life and in His love for all eternity. That is the much greater reason for why we want to worship Him. First, because He is God and He deserves our worship; secondly, because He is love, and love by its very nature wants to love someone else.
And so it is not for a selfish reason that we should be approaching things, but rather for a completely selfless reason. The most perfect reason for worshiping God and for loving Him is for His own sake. That is what we need to be about. If we look at why we want to worship the Lord, why we want to serve Him, if we find within our own intentions that there is some selfishness that is present then we want to continue to try to work that out because Our Lord said, Anyone who wishes to save his life will lose it, and anyone who loses his life for My sake will find it. Again, love by its nature is giving of the self. So you can ask yourself, “How much do you want to love God?” When you look at the Cross and see how much God loves you – He gives Himself entirely for you – and then consider what He does in the Eucharist – it is the fullness of Himself, holding back nothing – He gives everything and in exchange He desires everything. In our selfishness, in our attachment to the self, we sometimes only give part, and even that is sometimes very calculated and measured. God wants a selfless gift. He wants someone who is generous. Love desires and deserves to be loved in return, and not loved in a stingy manner but loved in a generous manner, wholeheartedly giving the self to God as He wholeheartedly gives Himself to us. That is what He desires.
When we are willing to do that, then we will be able to have the greatest glory in this life because we will be doing what we were created to do, and in the next life because our very purpose for everything that we have done will be out of love and that is all that Heaven will be: loving and being loved. So if we are willing to die to self and live for God, if we are willing to love God and love neighbor as we have been commanded to do, then we already begin our eternity here and we prepare ourselves for what we will do for all eternity beyond.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.