Monday August 25, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (1 Thessalonians 1:1-5, 8b-10) Gospel (St. Matthew 23:13-22)
In the readings today, we see two different aspects of the way that one would bring the Faith to people. Jesus, for instance, condemns the Pharisees for being hypocrites by locking people out of the kingdom of Heaven, not entering themselves and not allowing others to enter. He condemns them for traversing land and sea in order to make a single convert and then turning the people, as He calls them, into “a child of Gehenna” who is twice as bad as they themselves are; and then goes on to talk about the various things that they allow and do not allow: what one can swear by and what one cannot, and the points in that regard that just simply do not make sense.
And so we see that what happens is even though people try to convert others to God, what winds up sometimes happening is that they wind up making them actually worse. The devil gets right in there if the manner in which it is done or the intention for which it is done is not really for God. Sometimes what happens is that there are some people who, in pride, want to go out and try to make converts because they want to be able to let other people know how wonderful they themselves are. “Look what I did in making this convert,” as though somehow it was done on the natural level and not by the Lord. They are not necessarily interested in teaching the people the truth. Some people, for instance, will tell someone only part of the truth, and so they make it sound pretty fun. People convert, they find out the whole truth, and then they walk away. But now, of course, they are already responsible for living the Faith which they have professed and they have apostasized already. There are lots of different ways in which this can be done, which is not correct.
Saint Paul, on the other hand, tells the Thessalonians that their preaching of the Gospel was not one of mere words, but with power and with the Holy Spirit, which makes it clear that it was not the power that came from Saint Paul. It was not anything that he was doing on his own, but rather it was the Holy Spirit Who was working through him. He tells them also, “You know the kind of people we were when we were among you,” in other words, the kind of example we have to live if we are going to show people what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. It is one thing to be able to say to someone what the truth might be, but more than anything what is going to bring people to Christ is the example of those who are living it. That has been borne out time after time after time. The vast majority of converts have said that the reason why they converted was because of the example of a Catholic who was truly living their Faith. So you can talk until you are blue in the face, but if your life does not bear witness to what you are saying people are going to say exactly what Jesus said to the scribes and the Pharisees, “Woe to you, you hypocrites!”
Now, obviously, all of us – because we are not yet perfect – are hypocritical to some degree. That is part and parcel of being human; we say one thing, we do another. We tell someone the fullness of the truth but we do not always live it ourselves. But that is not necessarily done on purpose or with malice. If what people see is that we are trying to live the prayer life, that we are trying to live a life of virtue, that we are seeking union with Christ, that it is the Lord and the Word of the Lord which is on our lips and on our minds, they are going to be able to recognize that very quickly. They are not going to judge us because in some minor area we have slipped up or we are not perfect. No one would expect that we are going to be perfect, but what people will expect is an example of Christian life. They will expect to see that the words we are speaking are backed up by the life we are living. Otherwise, what we are going to do is drag someone into something they really did not know what they were getting into. We will make them somebody who is really not serving the Lord, but we will make them children of Satan, in essence, because we have turned them against Christ rather than for Him. Or we are going to try to do something all by ourselves, which is pride once again. Then we make them a child of ourselves rather than a child of God, which is certainly not what they need – they have already got enough problems of their own without having that one heaped on top of them.
So our task is first and foremost to live the Faith that we profess, and, secondly, to make sure people understand that the only way we can live this Faith is by the power of the Holy Spirit, by the grace of God. It is not we ourselves who are doing it because we know fully well that we have no capacity to do it by ourselves, and people need to see that: that we point beyond ourselves and we point them to Jesus Christ. They can only have one savior. There is only one Name given to us by which we can be saved, and it is the Name of Jesus Christ. If we bring any other gospel to people then we are lying to them and we are being hypocrites. We need to embrace the Faith, we need to live the Faith, and we need to point to the source of our Faith, that is, to Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, Who will work through us if we are truly seeking people out of true charity to bring them to the Lord.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.