Tuesday December 30, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Sixth Day in the Octave of Christmas
Reading (1 John 2:12-17) Gospel (St. Luke 2:36-40)
In the Gospel reading today, we hear about Anna and we are told that she never left the temple, but worshiped God with prayer and fasting day and night. Yesterday we heard about Simeon, who was just and righteous. These were the two people of ancient Israel who saw the Lord and understood Who He was. Now there is a clear pattern that is there for us because we have lots of other people of ancient Israel who were very good people, people who worshiped the Lord, but perhaps as minimally as they could, not unlike most Catholics of today. They show up for Mass on Sunday morning and then we will see them next Sunday morning. They come as late as they possibly can and they leave as early as they possibly can – but they went to Mass. “After all, that is all that’s important, isn’t it?” So it is precisely that. They believe in the Lord, they do not give Him a whole lot of their time and they really do not want much to do with Him, but they at least want to dangle their toes in the water. But these two people who recognized the Lord even as a little baby, they are people who prayed. They are people who worshiped God, who lived holy lives. They were upright; they were just, which meant without sin; and they were holy.
Now, for us, the goal is union with Jesus Christ, and I think the pattern is pretty clear. In case it is not, all we have to do is look at the first reading. Saint John told us that we cannot love the world or the things of the world because what the world has to offer is sensual lust, the enticements of the eye, and a life of empty show. There is not anything that is going to get us to heaven of a worldly sort. Heaven is not of this world, and this world is not of heaven. Obviously, God created the world and the things in it, and He created them for our use. But what happens is we tend to make much more of those things of the world than what we should. We get caught up in the things of the world and we pay far more attention to the things of the world than we do to God. As Saint John says, “This world and all the things of it are passing away.” But God is eternal. The things of this world are changing; God never changes.
So what we are looking at is the possibility of immersing ourselves into the things of this world and then we too are passing away. Of course, if we give ourselves over to the things of this world, the things that we find important will change from one year to the next and from one fad to the next. Everybody has to run around and do what everybody else is doing. It is foolish as can be but “That’s okay because everyone else is doing it and I just want to be like them.” For what? So that you can throw away all the stuff you just bought because it is going to be out of style in another few months? God does not change. The truth does not change. Beauty does not change. All the goofy stuff that we try to do with them changes, but they themselves do not.
That is what people like Anna and Simeon understood. That is the way Our Lady lived her life. That is the way Saint Joseph lived his life. We have got this bizarre notion that we do not need to pray, that we do not really need to strive for holiness, that we do not really need to try to live just and upright lives. As long as we are not committing mortal sin, we seem to think, “Then I’m doing ok.” Where did the Lord ever say, “Just don’t commit mortal sin”? He did not. He said, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” That means without sin; it means holy; it means righteous. That is what He wants from us. Not, “How much can I get away with and still get to heaven?” but rather, “If I really believe what I claim to believe, how much can I do for the Lord?” That is what we have to be about.
If we want to see Jesus, we have the pattern there for us. There are lots and lots of people of the ancient world who saw a little baby, and that is all they saw: cute little baby with a beautiful mom. There were two people who understood Who that Baby was, and the only reason they understood and recognized that Baby is because they were deep in prayer. If you want to know Jesus Christ and understand Who He Is, there is only one way, and that is to enter into the depths of prayer and to strive for holiness of life in union with Jesus Christ, which is the goal of this life so that we can be united with Him forever.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.