September 7, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I (Isaiah 35:4-7a) Reading II (James 2:1-5)
Gospel (St. Mark 7:31-37)
In the second reading today from the Letter of Saint James, we hear Saint James admonishing the people to make sure that they do not make judgments based upon one’s class, shall we say, of how much money they have and whether one has fancy clothes or shabby clothes. When we stop to think about the saints who vowed poverty and many of them who went around begging for the food they ate, we have to realize that these are the ones who truly are rich in the kingdom of Heaven because they were the ones who were the saints and they gave up all the things of the earth. And so if we were to make judgments based simply upon how much money one has, we are obviously making the wrong judgment. Recall that Our Lord told us it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of Heaven. So it is not for us to be able to make such distinctions.
Saint Leo the Great, in the readings that we have been given by the Church from the Office of Readings over the last few days, was talking about the poverty of spirit. He talks about how it does not matter how much money a person has – that is not the poverty that Jesus is talking about in the Beatitudes – but he says it is a question of what you do with it. He said, “For many people, their poverty becomes the means of their sanctity.” In other words, for some people, if they had money, they would no longer rely on the Lord. In the talk we heard last night, we heard the priest telling us that in Ireland the people have begun to stray from their faith because suddenly they have material wealth and they do not need God any longer – or so they think. The same thing happens with many of us. If we have too much of what this world has to offer, an abundance of it in whatever way, what happens is that we can very easily begin to rely on ourselves. We trust in the money. We trust in the material things rather than trusting in the Lord.
At the same time, Pope Leo the Great tells us that for some people their means to salvation is to be able to use the wealth they have been given for the good of others. That becomes their means to salvation. So it is not a question of how much money a person has that makes a person good or bad; it is a question of what they are doing with their lives. If we see a person who is very wealthy, that does not mean the person is a good person. It may mean that they have business savvy. It could mean that they even obtained it by illicit means. We do not know how they obtained their money, and we cannot make that kind of judgment. Neither can we make a judgment based upon the poverty of an individual.
When we think about the Gospel reading, when Jesus heals this man who is deaf and has a speech impediment (which would make perfect sense for a person who is deaf), we think about another Gospel where the apostles asked Our Lord, “For whose sin was this man born blind?” The Lord said it was not for anybody’s sin but rather for the glory of God. So too, then, for ourselves we have to be able to recognize the same thing. How often we judge people based on various handicaps that they have, based on certain things whether it is, again, the material wealth or poverty, whether it is intelligence or lack thereof, whether it is education or a lack of education, whether it is how they appear, whether it is the way they speak, or whatever it might be. We tend to make all kinds of judgments about the moral quality of the person based on things that have nothing at all to do with the moral quality of the person.
We need to be so careful about this because we have to recognize that all things are part of God’s providence – all things. No matter how good or evil they may seem to us at the time, it is part of God’s providence that these things have happened. So if a person is rich, if a person is handicapped, if a person has fancy things, if a person has very little, that is all part of God’s providence. And it does not matter as long as they are serving God. If they are giving God the greatest glory that they can then they are in good standing with the Lord. And so again, going back to what Pope Leo the Great said, if we look just at the whole question of material wealth, he says, “It does not matter if two people are unequal in the amount that they have, both can be equal in their attitude.” That is, they can both give according to their means as the little widow put in her two copper coins and gave more than all the wealthy people who put in lots of money because by comparison to what she had she gave more than what anybody else did.
When we think about ourselves and all the struggles that we have to deal with, all the little pains and the problems and worries and anxieties of whether we are going to pay our bills, or whether we can afford this or that, or why we cannot do things that other people can, or whatever it may be, we simply need to remind ourselves that this is all in God’s providence, that He has allowed this, and that, as we see in the first reading, God will turn everything exactly the opposite of what it appears: that streams will be in the desert, that the parched land will suddenly become a marsh, that the deaf will hear and the mute will speak and the blind will see. It may not be that the deaf will be able to hear the words of a person or the blind will be able to physically see, but sometimes we have to recognize that the insight a blind person has is far greater than what any of the rest of us can see. What the deaf person is able to perceive is far greater than any of us can hear because without the distractions the deaf person can hear the voice of God speaking in the silence of his heart. With a blind person, they are able to perceive God’s Will perhaps much more clearly than we can because of all the distractions.
And so we see that the way God is doing things is not necessarily the way we would do things. What God will do is to give us deficits of one kind or another, whether they be physical or material or whatever it may be, and He will ask us to work with that and to glorify Him with these things. Rather than being angry, rather than fighting it, rather than trying to push it away or to change it, sometimes we simply need to accept and be able to offer it all to the Lord and to recognize that this is the means by which we will become saints. If we offer it to the Lord, it becomes the means by which we share in the suffering of Christ and in that way to help many others become saints.
Recall the story of Saint Padre Pio when a blind man came to him and asked Padre Pio to heal him. Padre Pio said, “Yes, you have the faith to be healed but I will give you a choice. You can be healed of your blindness and you will be able to see. Or, if you are willing to accept your blindness and offer that to God, you will become a saint and many will go to Heaven because of it.” And the man said, “Then allow me to remain blind and I will offer it to the Lord.” He saw what many of us never will, even though he had no ability to see physically. He was willing to accept that this was not a punishment from God, but rather that this was the means by which he was going to become a saint. He saw that it was for the glory of God.
That is the way we need to accept our difficulties and struggles in life. All of it is for the greater glory of God so that those who give glory will be more, as Saint Paul tells us. Then when we see as the Lord sees, when we can accept His Will and adjust ourselves to it, those things which we were having trouble accepting, those things which we were fighting so desperately, we will suddenly recognize are for our benefit and for the glory of God. Then with joy we will glorify God and we will say with the people who saw Our Lord, “He has done all things well.” Even in our lives the things we thought He did not do so well we will recognize were in fact perfect and that all things work together for our good and for the greater glory of God; and that in our lives, no matter how bad they may seem at times, when we learn to look with the eyes of faith, to hear with the ears of faith, to see and hear what only the blind and death are able to see and hear sometimes, we will be able to say, “In our lives, the Lord has done all things well.”
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.