Thursday October 16, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Romans 3:21-30) Gospel (St. Luke 11:47-54)
In the Gospel reading Jesus says, Woe to you scholars of the law! You have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter yourself and you kept others from entering. What happened to the Jewish people is they began to have the idea that they would be justified simply by observance of the law. There were 613 precepts of the law which they had to follow, and, of course, other than Our Lord and Our Lady no one was ever able to do it completely. And so what Saint Paul talks about regarding his own self is that he surpassed all of his contemporaries when it comes to justification according to the law. He was the ultimate Pharisee; he lived it to an extreme. Yet he realized that that was not going to save him. Just simply following external precepts was not going to get him to heaven.
It would be as if somebody came to church on Sunday and said, “Well, I fulfilled my obligation. I did the absolute minimum – I showed up.” Now that does not mean they prayed at all. It does not mean they put their heart into anything. They just simply showed up. They did the absolute minimum necessary. And they could look at other points of faith and say, “Well, if I have to do this and I have to do that, then that’s what I will do,” the absolute minimum, just doing the things externally without the heart being involved. Saint Paul, who had lived his life this way, being trained by the most famous of all the rabbis, and now recognizing what happened to him with Jesus, realizes that all of that was nothing, and he even said it: “I see it all as refuse” – as garbage – “due to the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ.”
So for us, it would be easy to fall into the same pattern of simply looking at what is required according to the laws of the Church, but that is not what we are supposed to be doing. Those laws are there as a guideline for us but our faith is in a Person, and a person requires a relationship. For those of you who are married, you do not look at a textbook and say, “Okay, these are the minimum things I have to do if I’m married. I guess I have to talk a little bit to this person; then I have to do the following tasks. Now I can go to bed and say, ‘I did what I was supposed to do and that’s good enough’.” No, you are married to a person, and because you are married to a person you have to deal with the person. You love the person; you grow with that person.
Well, in this case we are talking about our faith in Jesus Christ. We are called not merely to follow external precepts of the law. We are not called merely to an external observance but to something far deeper. It is faith. It is something which is of the heart. The virtue of faith is of the mind more than of the heart, but in this case what Saint Paul is getting at is that it is not simply by doing external things in an objective way but rather it is by living the faith that we profess. There are lots of people, for instance, who would say, “Well, I have faith. I believe in God, therefore, I’m going to heaven,” to which I would say, “The devil believes in God too, so that is not enough.” Saint Paul is not talking about some generic faith – if you think you believe in God you are justified – that is not what he is talking about. He is talking about the fullness of the Person and the teaching of Jesus Christ and living that faith in love.
When we recognize Who Jesus is and we acknowledge that He is God then it means we have to enter into a relationship with Him as God, and as we grow in love with Him as God we begin to live our lives in a different way because we are going to act out of love. We are not little robots and we are not puppets on a string. We are persons, and God treats us with that dignity of persons. We have a relationship with the very Person of God, and we are called to live that relationship. That is how we are going to be justified. It begins with faith in Jesus Christ by saying, “I believe. I believe in Jesus Christ, Who is God, Who is the Messiah, Who is both God and Man. And if I believe that He is God then I have to believe in everything He is and everything He said and everything He taught. I have to form my life according to those principles.”
That is the faith Saint Paul is talking about. It is a faith that finds its expression in love because that is the commandment of Jesus; and Jesus, Who is God, is love. If we are going to enter into a relationship with love, that is something that must take place interiorly, not exteriorly. It is not something that can just be followed according to precepts written down somewhere, but it must be followed according to the dictates of the heart. That is what Saint Paul is asking of us. That is what Jesus commands of us, and He condemns the scribes and Pharisees for doing the opposite. So for us, if we are going to profess this faith in Jesus Christ, it requires then entering into the heart and entering into a relationship with the Lord and changing our lives so that they will be in conformity with His life.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.