August 17, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I (Proverbs 9:1-6) Reading II (Ephesians 5:15-20)
Gospel (St. John 6:51-58)
In the first two readings today, we hear about foolishness and wisdom. Saint Paul tells us that we are not to live as foolish persons but as wise, making the most of the opportunity we have. He tells us that the reason is because these are evil days. And he tells us then not to continue in ignorance but to try to understand what is the Will of God. So Saint Paul is making a very clear distinction for us that the ways of the world are ways of ignorance and the ways of wisdom are to understand the Will of God. We hear really the same thing in the Book of Proverbs in the first reading today where we hear about wisdom herself, and that wisdom has set her table and she invites to her table all of those who seek understanding, all of those who are looking for wisdom.
Now when we stop to think about wisdom, there is this clear dichotomy that we are seeing between the wisdom of God and the wisdom of the world. The wisdom of God is something that we cannot always grasp very easily, and it is not always a matter of what is sensual, that is, what we can see, what we can hear, what we can taste, what we can feel, and so on. The wisdom of the world, however, is very much focused on the body and on the senses. And so we can see the very clear distinction when we think about it.
The wisdom of the world tells us to focus upon the self, to look out for the good life, to make sure we are taking care of ourselves and all the desires that we have. If you want to see the fruit of the wisdom of the world, just look around. We have the senses flooded with television, radio, Internet, signs, billboards, noise, and things from every direction. The wisdom of the world has resulted in a plethora of pornography, gluttony, materialism, wealth, ease, comfort, pleasure, all the things that we have indulged ourselves in going off the high dive and plunging in with both feet. That is what our society is about. And so it is exactly what Saint Paul tells us: The days are evil. But that is the wisdom of the world. It is a wisdom that we can grasp. It is a wisdom that we can wrap ourselves around, if you will, because we can see it, hear it, feel it, and so on.
The wisdom of God, however, is something which is entirely different. It is something that we cannot grasp, but rather it is something that has to grasp us. It is not something of the mind, but rather it has to be of the heart. Wisdom is not intelligence. Wisdom is something that comes only from experience. And the wisdom of God is a Person. Saint Paul, in his First Letter to the Corinthians in the very first chapter, tells us that Jesus Himself is the wisdom of God. When we put wisdom together in the readings that the Church has given us today, we see in the first reading that wisdom has fixed her meat, has mixed her wine, she has set her table. In the wisdom that we see in the Gospel reading, Jesus tells us that the bread He will give is His flesh for the life of the world. He tells us that His flesh is real food and His blood is true drink, and that unless we eat of the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood we have no life in us.
Now on the natural level, in the wisdom of the world, this sounds like utter foolishness. And if I were to stand here and say those exact words, “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood then you have no life,” your natural inclination would be to say, “How is this possible? This doesn’t make sense. Is he asking us to be cannibals?” The answer, of course, from Our Lord is “no”. But we cannot grasp it. The Lord, we know, is truly present in the Blessed Sacrament in the fullness of His person, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. He has indeed set a table and He invites us to it, but, just like wisdom of old, the Lord invites to His table those who are simple, those who are seeking the way of understanding – but it is the understanding of God. And so we cannot see the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. We cannot feel the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. We cannot taste Him; we cannot touch Him; we cannot hear Him. He is not present to the senses in the Eucharist, entirely opposite of the wisdom of the world, which tells us that if we cannot see it or taste it or touch it or hear it then it must not be real and it must not be what we are seeking.
But when we look again at the differences, in the wisdom of God, we have a Person; in the wisdom of the world, we have only things for our own person. In the wisdom of the world, it is all about self-love. In the wisdom of God, it is about loving Jesus Christ, loving the Person Who is Wisdom, loving the Person Who is Truth. The wisdom of the world will lead us to eternal condemnation because it is focused solely on the self, which is what hell is all about. So we can begin living eternal condemnation now by plunging ourselves into the things of this world, or we can choose to live according to the wisdom of God, which is to plunge ourselves headlong into Jesus Christ. The wisdom of the world says, “Go out and seek what your senses desire.” The wisdom of God says, “Seek the Love, Who is Jesus Christ.”
Do not seek to find more things for yourself because you will never be fulfilled. You were not created for that purpose, but rather the purpose of your creation is to give of yourself. The purpose of your creation is to love and to be loved. Therefore, the place where you are going to find that fulfillment is in giving yourself to Jesus Christ and receiving His gift of Himself to you. That happens only in the Blessed Sacrament where Our Lord is present for us always, and we are invited to His table. He tells us, in the Book of Revelation, that for those who are faithful He will come to them and He will have supper with them. And right before we receive Holy Communion, we hear the words, “Blessed are they who are called to the banquet of the Lamb,” the Lord’s supper that He has provided for us. But this is merely a foreshadowing of the banquet that we are called to for all eternity, the true marriage banquet of the Lamb where we will feed upon Christ forever, not in a sensual way but in a spiritual way.
And so if we are willing to forsake the ways of the world and the ways of the senses now, instead of plunging ourselves as Saint Peter would say, “in this profligate way of the world,” if we plunge ourselves into the love of Jesus Christ, into the love of God Who is the wisdom of Christ, then we will find what our hearts truly desire. We will find the fulfillment of our hopes and of our souls, and that can only be found in Christ. This is why Saint Paul can tell us that the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of the world, because the worldly wisdom tells us that by plunging into all the material things of the world and the sensual things we will find fulfillment. And every single one of us knows that has not happened even once. We have not found any fulfillment in all the things that the world offers and in the wisdom that the world offers because the wisdom of the world is selfishness and it is self-indulgence. This is exactly what Saint Paul is telling us –to not continue in ignorance – because that is what this wisdom of the world is all about. It is true and complete ignorance; ignorance, that is, of the things that are going to fulfill us, the things that are the truth, because remember that the truth is a person, and it is the Person of Jesus Christ.
The ways of this world tell us that if we immerse ourselves into the things of the world, we will find life; but, in fact, all that it has done is brought about death because Jesus Himself is the Life. And so, once again, life is a Person. It is not going to be found in inanimate objects. It is not going to be found in selfishness. True life is going to be found only in love, and true life is a Person. So until we immerse ourselves into the Person Who is Truth, Who is Wisdom, Who is Life, Who is Love, we are not going to have any fulfillment. We will not have the Way, the Truth, and the Life because we will have rejected Him if we have chosen the wisdom of the world. The wisdom of God requires faith. The wisdom of God requires setting aside what is selfish and sensual, and seeking our way in the darkness of faith. That is what we are asked to do. And the reward for doing that is nothing less than God Himself, and it is eternal life with Him.
So that is the choice that is placed before us. It is the same choice that Moses placed before the people 3,500 years ago, except now it is made even more clear. It is a choice between life and death. It is a choice between the blessing and the curse. Death and the curse is the wisdom of the world, the sensuality, the self-seeking. The wisdom, which is from above, the wisdom of God, is Jesus Christ; it is life. The wisdom from above will lead us to eternal life. The wisdom of this world – which is merely the wisdom of Satan himself – is going to lead us to eternity with Satan, to eternity in hell, to an eternity focused on ourselves, which is complete misery. But that choice is made now. It is placed before us: life and death, the blessing and the curse.
Jesus Christ is the blessing, and He is truly present for us in the Eucharist. He is there for us everyday, 24 hours a day, if we are willing to put aside what is sensual and seek Him in the heart, if we are willing to put aside the wisdom which says that it is about the mind and instead seek the wisdom that is of the heart, if we are willing to put aside the control which says, “We need knowledge and intelligence in order to control what we want to do and what we want other people to do,” and if we are willing instead to say, “We are going to seek Christ in our hearts and the wisdom which is a Person and the wisdom which is love and a wisdom which forsakes the foolishness of the world but seeks only that which the world considers foolish.”
In a talk that I heard a very arrogant individual giving about ten or fifteen years ago, he went on to talk about what people consider, what they believe in, and how foolish it is. On the natural level, he talked about some people believing that the earth is still flat, for instance. And he talked about a whole bunch of other things that people believe in. Then he went on with the most arrogant statement of all to say that one-third of the world’s population actually believe that bread and wine are changed into God Himself, that bread and wine become the very Body and Blood of Jesus Christ and how utterly foolish this is because you cannot see it, touch it, taste it, feel it, or anything else. That is the wisdom of the world.
The wisdom of Jesus Christ, on the other hand, is the Blessed Sacrament. The wisdom of God is Jesus Christ truly present for us in the Eucharist. That is the choice we have to make: the wisdom of the world, which is self-seeking – or the wisdom of God, which is selfless, which is a gift, which is His Son, Jesus Christ. We can choose to immerse ourselves in Christ and allow Him to immerse Himself in us in the Blessed Sacrament. Or we can choose the way of the world to immerse ourselves in selfishness and to destroy ourselves in the process. One leads to life; the other leads to death. One is a curse; the other is a blessing. Jesus Christ is the wisdom of God. He is the blessing given to us from above. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Reject the wisdom of the world and choose the wisdom of God. Reject death, reject the curse – and choose life.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.