Wednesday Sept. 3, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Colossians 1:1-8) Gospel (St. Luke 4:38-44)
In the Gospel reading today, the people, seeing the works of Jesus, wanted Him to stay with them. But Our Lord responds that He has to go and preach the Gospel in other towns because it is for that purpose that He was sent. And then we see Saint Paul telling the Colossians that they have already heard the word of truth and that it is continuing to grow among them as it is everywhere in the world. So we see that the work Jesus began by bringing the Gospel message to the towns of Judah suddenly now becomes a force throughout the entire world as the Gentiles begin hearing about the Gospel.
Now if we think about ourselves, we have to realize that the only reason we are Catholic is because somebody brought the Gospel to each one of us. For most of us, it probably was our parents that taught us. But somewhere along the line, more than likely, somebody in our family was a pagan who became a Catholic. It may be that there were other Christians more recently in our families who converted to become Catholic, but even there, back a ways’ ago, they would not have even been Christian. In other words, somebody had to have brought the Gospel to a person in our family and that individual believed and converted to Christ. That faith then has been passed down until it finally comes to us and to our children.
When we see the work of Our Lord and that the very purpose for which He was sent was to preach the Gospel, and we see the work of Saint Paul and the early apostles in bringing the Gospel to others, then we recognize that, as the Church teaches, the very purpose of the Church (as Our Lord made clear at the end of Saint Matthew’s Gospel) is to preach the Gospel, to go out to all nations and teach them, and to baptize them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. And so the task of the Church it is to teach everyone about Jesus Christ.
As the Church looks at this task which Our Lord has given to Her, we recognize that the first duty of a priest is to preach. That is something people oftentimes do not think about, but that is the primary task the Church gives to a priest; of course, the same is true for bishops and for deacons. But the other part most people do not think about is that when the Church looks at Her task of preaching the Gospel, the primary people to whom that task is entrusted are the laypeople. It is not the priests and the deacons and the bishops who have the primary task of bringing the Gospel out into the world, but it is the task of the laity. So even though my first task is to preach the Gospel, I am not the first preacher of the Gospel for most people – you are. It is your task to bring the Gospel message into the world.
In fact, when we look at the precepts of the Church, we recall that our Holy Father has added one, and that is that everyone among the laity must share in the evangelization, in the work of bringing the Gospel to the people. The Holy Father has called for a “new evangelization” to reconvert the world to Christ, to re-evangelize, because he recognizes that people, even if they have heard the Gospel, do not have a clue what the Faith is. They do not really know Who Jesus Christ is even though they have heard the Gospel message. All we need to do is look at all the immorality and the infidelity that is out there among people who claim to be Christian, let alone Catholic. It is pretty evident that people do not know the Gospel and they do not know their catechism. For most people, the only way they are going to hear it is if someone in their office or in their neighborhood or in their club (or whatever it may be) is going to tell them about the Lord because you can be pretty well guaranteed they are not planning on coming to church to hear about Christ. Therefore, the Church has to come to them. And the Church comes to them in the person of you, in the persons of the laity who are out in the world among the people to bring to them the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which means that it is incumbent upon each one of us to know that Gospel well, to know our faith, and to live that faith.
Remember, as I have told you many times, what Saint Francis said – if you are getting a little bit uneasy right now about the idea of going out into the world and preaching the Gospel – “Preach always, and when necessary use words.” It is your life that has to preach, as well as the mouth. But your life will preach far louder than any words you are ever going to speak. Recall too that in all of the polls that have been done of all the people who have converted to Catholicism, the number one reason for people converting is the example of a Catholic who was living his or her faith. That is the most powerful work of evangelization – not so much what you say but how you live – which again requires that we know the Gospel, that we know our faith, that we have a prayer life, that we are in union with Jesus Christ, so that the life of Christ is being lived in us and through us. When people see us out in the world they will see Christ, and, as Our Lord told us, “Then they will give glory to your heavenly Father,” because they will recognize that it is God working in you and through you, and this is not just something you are doing all by yourself because you are such a nice person. But rather it is because there is another reason: There is something far greater than yourself at work. That is what Saint Paul commends the people of Colossae for, and it is what Our Lord expects from each one of us.
So when we look at the work of Our Lord, we are members of Our Lord, therefore, we have the same work. We are members of the Church, Who has been entrusted with this work, and we recognize that it is a necessity for each one of us. It is part and parcel of who we are as Catholic people to share in the work of Jesus Christ and of His Church. And the primary work of both is evangelization, to preach the Gospel to all the peoples.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.