Righteousness or Lawlessness: The Division is in Ourselves
Thursday October 23, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Romans 6:19-23) Gospel (St. Luke 12:49-53)
In the readings today, we see very clearly that there is a dichotomy between the way of Christ and the way of the world, between the way of sin and the way of righteousness. It is not that any one of us had any question that there was such a dichotomy, but it is simply made clear that this is the case and that we have a choice we have to make. The Lord tells us that He came to this world to set the world on fire. That fire has to take place within our hearts, and He wants the fire to be blazing. He is not talking about a little candle that is going to be flickering; He is talking about how He wishes that the fire were blazing. He is talking about a huge fire, and a fire is going to burn. And so it is a matter that the fire of the love of God has to burn sin right out of us. The question really is, do we want that?
When we look at what Saint Paul is talking about, he says that there was a time when we presented the parts of our bodies to impurity as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness for lawlessness’ sake. In other words, if there was a time in your life when you can look back and say, “Yeah, there was kind of a wild period in my life that I’m pretty ashamed of,” you can look at it and ask, “Why was it happening?” Well, we were doing things that were wrong for the sake of lawlessness. It is rebellion. It is selfishness. It is just doing whatever “I” feel like doing. That is what Saint Paul is talking about, doing lawless things for the sake of lawlessness. But now he says that because we are in Christ we can turn that the other way. When we were acting in lawlessness we were free from righteousness, but now, if we have been brought into righteousness we should be free from lawlessness.
But that, again, is where that choice is made because when we give ourselves over to sin we tend to go wholeheartedly into it. It is not something that most of us do in a mediocre manner. If we are going to sin, we are going to do it up. The problem is that when we decide to be righteous we do not always have the same attitude. Sometimes we look back to the sinful things and we get a smile on our face or there is a kind of longing for some of those unfortunate things. Or sometimes when we do look back, we truly are ashamed of what we have done – and so we should be – yet, at the same time, for whatever reason, we do not want to throw ourselves wholeheartedly into living the righteous way, at least not with the same kind of abandonment as we did when we were giving ourselves over to sin.
We really need to look at that division. The Lord tells us that He came to divide. He talks about families in particular, but there is a division within ourselves and it is the division between righteousness and lawlessness, between Christ and Satan, between the natural and the supernatural. We have to understand when Saint Paul is talking about righteousness and how righteousness leads to sanctification and sanctification leads us to eternal life, as opposed to sinfulness which leads to lawlessness and lawlessness leads to death, we see again that it is the split between life and death. But we need to understand that the righteousness which is ours is the righteousness of Christ Himself. We are made members of Christ, and Saint Paul actually talks about becoming the very holiness of God, to be filled with the fullness of God, and to be the very righteousness of God Himself. So it is no righteousness of our own and it is not something which is natural. It is something completely supernatural, which is why we cannot be trying to suggest that we have become righteous and sanctified, and at the same time continue in the lawlessness, because one is from below and one is from above.
If we are going to live according to the way of Christ, we need to cut ourselves off ruthlessly from the things that are from the underworld, from beneath. When we look at the lower desires, the lower passions, as opposed to looking at the higher faculties of the soul, there is a huge dichotomy. That is why Saint Paul is saying, “Even use the parts of your body for righteousness.” Everything should be turned over to Christ – everything. We are called to live in righteousness, to live according to the ways of heaven, to live in a spiritual manner, and that means to reject anything that is contrary to it and to allow that fire to burn, to burn up anything which is of Satan, anything which is of sin, anything which is of the lower nature, so that we can live truly spiritual lives on fire with the love of God.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.