Thursday August 28, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (1 Thessalonians 3:7-13) Gospel (St. Matthew 24:42-51)
In the first reading, Saint Paul tells the Thessalonians that he will live only if the Thessalonians stand firm in their faith, that there is that much connection between Saint Paul, who founded that church, and the people who had converted to the Lord, that he recognizes he is somewhat dependent upon the prayers of these people and that he is only going to be able to continue to move on if they stand firm; because, at that point, their faith was being tested, they were being attacked in many ways, and they needed to stand firm.
The same is true of each one of us. Living in this society that we live in, our faith is constantly under attack. And it is not so much a matter of any other one person who is going to be able to go on only if our faith remains strong, but rather it is we who can only continue to go on if our faith remains strong. We live under constant pressure in this society to buckle under the weight of all the societal norms, of all the things around us. What happens very easily to us is that we start to compromise: “I’m not going to give in completely to what these other people do, but a little bit isn’t going to be a big problem. After all, I’ll look pretty weird if I’m really living my Catholic Faith in a radical manner, so therefore I should be like everyone else. I need to fit in. What are people going to think?”
Now stop and think of the people Saint Paul was writing to. These were people who lived in a pagan society, and because they lived in a pagan society (and he had already told them how they had turned from idols to serve the living God) how they had to have stood out. As I have told you before, when I was in India – in a pagan society – you knew every single home that was Christian because they had crosses built right into the concrete of their homes on the outside so anyone and everyone could see that they were Christian. They would put statues of Our Lady out in front of their homes. Where you would travel down the road and see all these hideous forms of these gods and goddesses that the Hindus were worshiping, all of a sudden there would be a statue of our Blessed Lady. What a relief and what a joy it was to be able to see! But these people living in a pagan society were unabashedly Catholic. They were not ashamed to let people know they were Catholic. They were not trying to be like everyone else in the society because they [the majority of people in the society] were living a pagan life.
In our society, that point is just a little more subtle. We do not have blue goddesses with eight arms and monkey heads and elephant heads and whatever other horrible forms one can think of to make gods and goddesses out of. They just simply have their own little way, and so it is more subtle. I suspect if it were more blatant on the lines of having statues of false gods and so on, sure, we would reject all of that. But the problem is that because it is much more subtle we wind up falling prey to the temptation to compromise.
Our Lord has something to say about that in the Gospel reading: Stay awake, for the master will come on a day that you do not expect him. The Lord is very, very clear that the one to whom He is going to entrust all of His property is the one who is doing exactly what should be done when the Master arrives. But if instead he begins to beat the other servants and eat and drink with drunkards, in other words, if we begin to stray from our faith, if we begin to compromise, if we begin to give into things that we should not, then what is going to happen is we are going to fall prey to the fact that we are not living our faith and the Lord will call us home on a day we do not expect. There will be wailing and grinding of teeth for those who have not done what they were supposed to do.
It is time, in this neopagan society of ours, that we look at what it means to be Catholic and that we quit playing footsy with this society and with the paganism that has infiltrated and indeed taken over this society. It is about time that we stand up and let it be known that we are Catholic and that we are not going to compromise with this society and with its standards, that we are not going to give into the false gods, but that we worship one God – and there are no others. Jesus Christ alone is where we are going to place our hope. In our heads, we all acknowledge that. The question is do we live it in our lives? That is the issue at hand.
The Lord has made very clear what His expectations are. Saint Paul made very clear to the Thessalonians what his expectations were. We have been given a gift which is greater than any other that can be known, and that is to know and to love and to serve Jesus Christ. If we reject that gift by watering it down, compromising, pushing it to the back burner, then our Master will return on a day we do not expect and we will not be admitted into the heavenly kingdom. But if we are living that Faith that we profess, then when the Master calls us home He will place us in charge of all of His property because we will have been found to be faithful servants who have done what our Master has asked us to do.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.