Monday November 17, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (1 Maccabees 1:10-15, 41-43, 54-57, 62-63)
Gospel (St. Luke 18:35-43)
In the first reading today, we hear from the First Book of Maccabees about the persecution of the Jewish people. This happened just a couple of hundred years before Jesus came into this world, and it was actually the first time in history that the Jews had been truly persecuted for their faith. There were other times; for instance, at the time of Esther when the people were in exile and they were about to be put to death because they did not follow the customs of the pagans among whom they lived, but even that did not come to an all-out persecution. There was a day on which they were supposed to be executed, and then the Lord took care of that and it was mitigated. But in this instance, the time of the Maccabees, this was the first true persecution of the faith of the Jewish people. They were put to death because they were different, because they refused to do what the Gentiles wanted them to do. They wanted them, for instance, to eat pork, a seemingly very simple thing but it violated the law of God. They wanted them to offer incense or to offer sacrifice to idols, and if they refused they would be put to death.
Now this is something important for us to be able to see because some of these things might appear to be fairly small and yet they are critical because we can ask ourselves what would happen if we were persecuted. What if someone were to say, “Renounce Jesus Christ or die”? What if someone were to say, “Just deny the Real Presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and you can save your life”? Or what if they were to say, “Renounce the Pope or we will put you to death”? Or whatever other point it might be, what would our response be? We can deny life in order to try to save it, but this is why Jesus tells us that anyone who would save his life will lose it – because if we deny Him, He will deny us. He has told us that. He was willing to give up His life for us. He was willing to suffer whatever persecution He had to endure for our sake, and so He said “yes” to us. He did not deny us and He did not deny His heavenly Father. If we are put to the test, we need to have that same kind of disposition because He made it very clear: If we deny Him before men, He will deny us before His heavenly Father and before the angels of God. Saint Paul makes it very clear as well when he writes to Timothy: “If we deny Him, He will deny us. If we are unfaithful, He will still remain faithful because He cannot deny Himself.” He has made promises in our regard and He will keep those promises; but, at the same time, if we do not want to be part of Him that is our choice. We cannot deny Him with our lips and with our actions and then think that we are going to stand before Him and be recognized, because we will have cut ourselves off from Him.
This is the blindness that we hear about in the Gospel, people who think that they can claim to serve Jesus and then be pagan at the same time, people who want to live a worldly life and yet claim to be Catholic at the same time, people who do not want any real part of Jesus as far as living their life but yet they want the eternity that Jesus promises for those who love Him and serve Him. So we need, just like the blind man in the Gospel, to come to the Lord and beg him for sight, for spiritual sight, because in our world which is so corrupted by evil and so darkened we cannot see very clearly. And it is extremely easy for us to give into things that we should not, to make our claim for faith in Jesus Christ and then to turn around and do lots of things that deny Him. And then we will say, “But everybody else is doing it. It’s not that bad. Just think, at least I’m not doing something like these other people.” Well, you may not be doing something like some of the other people, but if we are willing to do things like most of the other people that are not right, we are denying Christ in our actions. So we need to beg Him for that sight to be able to see clearly – In what ways are we doing His Will and in what ways are we not? In what ways are we professing His ways and in what ways are we denying Him? – so that we will have the insight to reject anything that is not of Christ; and if it comes to a time when we are going to be persecuted for our faith to have the grace and the sight, even in the midst of the people telling us to stop living our faith, to cry out all the more, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on us!” It does not matter what the people do, even if they put us to death, because if we die in this world with the Name of Jesus on our lips, we will have life forever with Him.
And so we need to profess the Lord with our lips and with our lives no matter what the cost because we know the reward that has been promised for those who are faithful. For us, it is a simple matter, but not necessarily so easy. Objectively, very simple; subjectively, it could be a challenge. If we are put to the test, are we going to be faithful? The only way to know is if we are praying and if now in our day-to-day lives we are willing to live our faith. If we are not willing to live it now, you can be guaranteed you are not going to live it if you are being persecuted. So this is the time when we need to really put it into practice because we do not know what might happen in the future. Regardless, if the Lord calls us home, even if we are not being persecuted, we need to be found living our faith. So profess the Name of Jesus – but live it – so that you will be recognized by Him as one of His own.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.