Saturday Sept. 6, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Colossians 1:21-23) Gospel (St. Luke 6:1-5)
In the first reading from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Colossians, he tells us that we have been chosen by Christ and that we are to be holy and without blemish. When we put this into a different context, these are the same words that he uses in his Letter to the Ephesians when he talks about the Church, that Christ gave Himself up for the Church to present to Himself one bride who was holy without spot or wrinkle or blemish of any sort. It reminds us then that we are members of that Church; and if the Church is to be holy and without blemish, the members of the Church are to be holy and without blemish; and that the goal for us is to be able to get to Heaven. It is not merely holiness for our own sake in the sense that we want to compare ourselves to someone else and show someone that we are more advanced than they are or that we are better than they are, not at all. Rather it is for our benefit that we grow in holiness, but not to be judgmental or comparative to anyone else. It is simply to be able to love God more. That is what holiness is about.
To be without blemish has two different points to it. First of all, it is to present to God one whose love is perfect. Why, I often ask, would a person want to love God for the rest of eternity as little as possible? It has never made sense to me. Why do we want to get into Heaven in the last place that we possibly could, to eke in and be in the very last spot in Heaven? If that is where we get – praise God! – at least we are there. But why aim for that? Aim high. Go for the highest spot you can. Again, not in pride to be able to say, “I can do better than everybody else,” but rather in humility so that we can say, “What I want to do is love God as much as I possibly can for the rest of eternity, and I want other people to love God as much as they can for the rest of eternity.” The ones who are the highest in Heaven are the ones who are the most humble. Our Lady, of course being the most humble person ever, is the queen of all the angels and saints because she truly was completely without blemish, perfect in the eyes of God.
That point of being without blemish has another element to it. We have to remember that the sacrificial lamb that was offered in the Old Testament had to be without blemish, and so Jesus, Who is our sacrificial Lamb, is offered as the male without blemish, offered to the Father as the perfect sacrifice. We are members of Jesus Christ and we are to share in His sacrifice, therefore, what we want to offer to God is an unblemished sacrifice. Saint Paul says elsewhere that we are to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice acceptable to God our spiritual worship. What God wants from us is ourselves: our hearts, our souls. He wants our entire being. He will certainly accept whatever it is we are able to offer, but why would we want to offer to God a blemished sacrifice if we can offer Him an unblemished sacrifice? That is why Our Lord would tell us that the greatest commandment is to love God with our whole heart and soul and strength, and not just with a little bit because it is blemished, it is imperfect. But if it is with our whole heart, our whole soul, our whole strength, our whole being, then it is a perfect sacrifice. Then it is perfect praise being offered to God because there is nothing else that is in the way.
Now the beauty of perfection is that it keeps growing. Even if today we can offer to God a sacrifice with a pure heart, with our whole heart and soul and strength, that means that tomorrow we can offer to God a sacrifice with our whole heart and soul and strength but it will be even more than what it is today because love grows. And because love grows everyday – if it does not then it goes backwards – it means we have more love and thereby more capacity to love God even more. And so at every moment of every day if we are offering to God a pure sacrifice in union with Our Lord’s sacrifice in the Mass, then we are giving to God an unblemished sacrifice and it is always greater than the time before. So constantly we can be growing in our love for God and we can be that spouse of Christ, that member of Jesus Christ who is a true member of Christ without spot or blemish or wrinkle of any sort so that Christ can offer to our heavenly Father not only an unblemished sacrifice of ourselves but rather He can offer His Church unblemished as the beautiful bride prepared for her husband without wrinkle or spot or blemish of any sort.
Saint Paul says this is possible only if you persevere. That is the important part. It is easy for us in a moment of great zeal and exuberance when something beautiful happens at prayer to walk away and be ecstatic and on fire for the Lord. But marriage is something that is for a lifetime. If a couple were to die on the day they were married, they would both die ecstatic and in love with one another. But when one dies after fifty or sixty years of marriage, one has learned truly to love. It is not the emotional love anymore; it is a pure love. What the Lord is asking us for is a pure love, not an emotional kind of love, not an ecstatic sort of love, but rather a pure love which is simple, which is humble, and which is peaceful. That is the kind of love that grows only with years of perseverance in the love of one’s spouse. And as the spouse of Jesus Christ, each one of us must persevere in our faith, in our hope, in our charity, so that we will be truly the spouse without spot or wrinkle or blemish of any sort.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.