Monday November 3, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Romans 11:29-36) Gospel (St. Luke 14:12-14)
Saint Paul in the first reading today says, The gifts and the call of God are irrevocable. He is speaking here in a particular way about the Jewish people, and he tells the Romans, Just as you once disobeyed God but have now received mercy because of the disobedience of the Jews, so now that they have disobeyed, by the virtue of the mercy shown to you as the Gentiles, they too may receive mercy. In other words, what we see in God’s providence is something that is the oddest thing for a human person to recognize, that is, the way that God brings good out of evil, that the only way we really understand His mercy is in light of our sinfulness, and that if we did not sin we really would not understand His mercy.
Now this is something strange to us because we know that if we turned the tables we would not want someone sinning against us. And it is not that God wants us to sin against Him, obviously, but it is a matter that for us in our weakness we know that the only possible way we are going to understand His mercy is when we realize how badly we have violated Him through our disobedience. When we understand and accept His mercy that He has forgiven our sins, that He has restored us to being His son or His daughter, that He has brought us into union with Himself, when we look at our sinfulness on the one hand and we look at His gracious mercy on the other, then it startles us to the very depths of our being and we have to really dig in and look at what happened and just how merciful He is. Then we have to stop and look at ourselves and see how unmerciful we tend to be and how we can even take His mercy for granted. It is in looking at this dichotomy that not only do we recognize His mercy but it calls us to a deeper conversion to be able to say, “If God has treated me this mercifully, number one, I need to quit treating Him so badly, and, number two, I need to treat other people with the kind of mercy with which I have been treated by God.” It spurs us on to charity on both levels: number one, to stop sinning, and, number two, to be more merciful.
This is exactly what the Lord is looking for from each of us because this opening line of the reading today can certainly be applied to each one of us. God’s call and His gifts are irrevocable. God has given to each one of us the call, a call generically, first of all, to be His own children, to be members of His Son Jesus Christ, to live the life of grace, to share His divine nature and so on, all the gifts that we have been granted; and we have been called by God into intimate union with Him according to the vocation which He has given us. Sometimes in our youth, when we do not feel like listening to God but we think we know everything, maybe we have not entered into the vocation that we were supposed to. But even if not, it is the way you are going to work out your salvation by being obedient now, and the grace will be there now to be able to live out the vocation that you have entered into. God will not abandon us. He has called us, and how important that is to know because sometimes when we sin gravely we look at God and we think, “This is it. He finally is going to get tired of me and He doesn’t want me back.” No, His call is irrevocable. He wants you.
It is that same point which we looked at last week when we asked, “What can separate us from the love of God that comes in Jesus Christ?” Only us – our own free will. We are the only person who can separate ourselves from the love of God. And it is by our choice also that we can be reunited with that love, that we can be reconciled with God. God’s mercy and His grace are there for the asking, so the only thing that stands between God and us is ourselves; that is all. Whether it is our fear, whether it is our pride, whatever it may be, we are the only problem in the entire equation. So all we need to do is choose to choose God, and we need to make the act of the will to humble ourselves, to come to Him, to confess our sins, to be forgiven and restored to that state of grace, to be reunited with Him in that beautiful relationship to which He has called us.
That is the mercy of God, and that mercy will only be understood in the face of our own disobedience. It does not matter how badly we have sinned; in fact, one of the paradoxes of it all is that the one who has sinned the worst is the one who will be able to rejoice the most. And so as you look at whatever it is that you have done, do not let your sinfulness keep you away. And do not let the devil lie to you and tell you that because you have done this or that or the other thing that you cannot be forgiven, that you are not worthy to enter into a relationship with God, that He does not want you back – those are all lies. Tell the devil where he can go and come to God in the confessional. Be reconciled with the Lord, accept His mercy, and rejoice with your whole heart because in the face of disobedience God’s mercy is shown most perfectly.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.