January 25, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I (Nehemiah 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10)
Reading II (1 Corinthians 12:12-30)
Gospel (St. Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21)
In the second reading today, Saint Paul, from his Letter to the Corinthians, speaks about how each one of us is a part of the Mystical Body of Christ. Each of us has full membership in the body. We all need to be so careful, as we have spoken many times before, about trying to compare ourselves with others, to look at the talents and abilities that someone else has and think, “I don’t quite measure up. I’m not equal because these people have better talents or better abilities than I have.” That is not at all an issue. As Saint Paul makes very clear, those members of the body (if we think of it in a physical way) that we consider to be less honorable, we clothe them with greater honor; and those that we consider to be not quite so dignified, we cover up and we keep them in a way that is very dignified.
When we think back over the centuries and think of the saints, when various tyrants have tried to destroy the Church and have demanded that the treasures of the Church be brought out and placed before them, the saints brought the poor, the lame, the blind, the crippled, and they said, “Here are the treasures of the Church.” We think even about what it tells us in Scripture, when we read in the New Testament that the one thing the Church wanted to make sure that Saint Paul and others were being very cautious of was to be mindful of the poor. So often in our society, if somebody does not have a great, big mansion and a fancy car and expensive clothes, we look down upon them. These are the ones that the Church holds up as being the most honorable. And so if we look at it in a societal manner, those who would be poor or those who look at themselves as somehow deficient, naturally would say, “Well, I’m not as good. I’m less than.” The Lord, on the other hand, looks at it in a very different way; and those whom society considers less honorable, the Lord clothes with greater honor. Those are the ones He looks upon as being the treasure, as being the greatest.
Even in the spiritual realm, there are different gifts that are given to people. There are some, for instance, who have the ability to sit before the Blessed Sacrament for hours at a time. God has not only given them the ability to do that, but He has also given them the time to do that. For some, on the other hand, to sit there for an hour before the Blessed Sacrament is about all that they can handle both physically and spiritually. And so one could look and say, “Obviously, I’m not as good as this person who can sit for hours and hours before the Blessed Sacrament in adoration of the Lord.” That is not the case. God has given to each one according to His Will. Each one of us has the ability to worship, to adore, to honor, and to glorify God; and each one of us is to do so to the full extent of our ability. If God has given you the ability to spend hours before the Blessed Sacrament and you choose to only spend a few moments, then that is something for which you will be held responsible. If God, on the other hand, has given you the time and the ability only to spend a small amount of time, comparatively, before the Blessed Sacrament, then do not think that you are doing something wrong because you do not have hours and hours to spend there. However, you would be doing something wrong if you spent no time at all with the Blessed Sacrament – because God does not call anybody to no prayer at all. Of that, we can be guaranteed.
Now when we look at the call that God has given to each one of us, we look, for instance, at the Gospel reading, and we hear Saint Luke telling us that we have eyewitness accounts (for instance, the things that Saint John writes to us, telling us that he himself was an eyewitness of some of the things that happened and therefore we know that his testimony is true) but Saint Luke at the same time says, “Having investigated this thoroughly, I have decided to write a new and accurate account.” Not that the others were inaccurate, but rather Saint Luke adds a few details that we will not see in Saint Matthew or Saint Mark. Saint John, of course, presents an entirely different version; not a different version of the same events, but rather, being that the same events were already presented in the other Gospels, He presented other things that the Lord did and helps us to understand things in a different way.
So Saint Luke, speaking to each one of us, says, “I have decided, most excellent Theophilus, to write a new account.” He is writing to you – the word Theophilus means “the lover of God” – and he is calling you, in the excellence of what God has given to you in the spiritual gifts provided by the Holy Spirit, so that you can love God more, so that you will have a greater understanding of the truths of the Incarnation of Christ, and the Life, Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Our Blessed Lord, and of the life of the early Church. In order to know Our Lord, we need to spend time with Him. We need to read the Scriptures which are divinely inspired by Him and we need to spend time in prayer with Him so that we not only know about Him from Scripture, but we come to know Him and love Him in a relationship with Him in prayer.
Now we need also to look at the first reading to be able to look at the response of the people. They had just recently come back from the exile in Babylon. These are people who had never seen Israel or Jerusalem. They had never seen the temple. They had been in exile for 70 years, and so all the people who had known of Israel had already died and the group who came back was a group that had never been there. When they began to rebuild the temple, they found buried in the temple a scroll which today we call the Book of Deuteronomy. When the people went into exile, they did not have their Scriptures; they smuggled some of them out, but the Book of Deuteronomy was not among them. So these people had never heard the words of the Book of Deuteronomy before, where Moses lays out very clearly for them what God expects and the blessings and the curses that will follow from it.
When the people heard the words of the Book of Deuteronomy, they began to weep; not only because of the beauty of the truth that was there, but because God told them explicitly in the Book of Deuteronomy that they were going to be disobedient, that they would go into exile because of their disobedience. He told them exactly what was going to happen. And when the people heard the words, they recognized the justice of God, but they also recognized the mercy of God. The priests called out to the people, “Do not weep because today is holy to the Lord, your God. It is a day of rejoicing and not a day of sadness.” When the people saw the scroll, they bowed down and prostrated themselves before the Lord. Now if we think about this, the people recognized that this was the divinely inspired Word of God. They knew that, because after they found the scroll, they took it to the prophetess Hulda; and the prophetess Hulda declared after prayer that this indeed was divinely inspired by God, which is why they gathered all the people together to hear the words of the Book of Deuteronomy. So the people, now knowing that this was indeed the Word of God, prostrated themselves before the Lord.
That was regarding one book of the Bible. We not only have the Scriptures – we have the Lord Himself. In the ancient world, scrolls were not easy to come by, they were not cheap to make, and the average person did not have them in their own home. I hope and pray that each of us has at least one Bible in our homes, and I ask you, “Where is it? How often do you read it? Do you venerate it? Is it in a place of prominence? Is it in a place where any guest coming into your home would recognize that this is something exceedingly important to you?” After all, if you go home today and look around, I would be willing to submit that anything you think is valuable and important has a very prominent place where anybody coming into your home will be able to recognize it. There is nothing in your home that is more valuable and should be placed with greater prominence than the Word of God, because it is of infinite value. How often do we read it? Is it just collecting dust on a bookshelf? Maybe it is sitting out on the coffee table, but I suspect that, for most of us, if we actually opened it up, the binding would crack because of lack of use. It is the Word of God and we need to know it well.
It was the fact that the people were disobedient to the Word of God that led them into exile. And it is the disobedience of the people to the Word of God today that is going to bring us to our knees, to a purification unlike any that the world has ever known before. When that day comes, it will be a day of weeping and wailing for many people. But for those who know the Word of God, for those who have taken part in the sacraments – to have confessed their sins and been forgiven, to be united with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, to be deeply united with Him in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament – it will be a great day of rejoicing because it will be a day holy to the Lord, your God. It will not be a day of weeping and sadness, but a day where we will see the divine intervention as the greatest of all blessings and a gift second to none.
So we can ask ourselves, not only about our disposition toward the Sacred Scriptures, but about our disposition toward Our Lord Himself. The people bowed down and prostrated before God as Ezra held the book of the Bible up to them because they recognized that it was the Word of God. The Word of God dwells right there in the tabernacle. What is our disposition as we come into church? What is our disposition before Our Lord? What is the disposition of our heart as we receive Him in Holy Communion? If the people of Israel would bow down and prostrate themselves before the Word of God in writing, what about us before the living and true Word of God made flesh and truly present among us in the Blessed Sacrament? What is our disposition as we come before Him, as He is elevated and held up before us and we hear those beautiful words: Behold, the Lamb of God; behold Him Who takes away the sins of the world?
There are lots of beautiful things that we can look at in a church; there is only One from Whom all other beauties take their beauty. There is only One Who so surpasses them that everything else pales in comparison, and all too often we do not recognize Him because He is hidden. But isn’t that what He tells us through Saint Paul in the second reading, that those who are considered less honorable for whatever reason (because He is hidden), we have to clothe with greater honor; that those who have not made themselves in such a way as to be externally presentable, we maintain with greater dignity? Our Lord has chosen to be among us in a most hidden way, and it is for us as the members of His Body to hold Him in the greatest honor, to uphold His dignity, to bow down and prostrate ourselves before Him, and to worship Him. That is our dignity. That is our honor, because as Saint Paul says, “When one member of the body is honored, all the members rejoice with him.” When we truly come to recognize the Presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and we honor Him there, every other member of the Mystical Body will be affected by that and all will rejoice with the praise and glory and honor that we give to Our Blessed Lord.
And so, Theophilus, recognize the excellent gifts that God has given to you and use those gifts to the greater honor and glory of God. But recognize, first and foremost, God, Who has given you the gifts; and understand that you will only know how to use His gifts if you come to know the Giver and if you come to know His Will with regard to the gifts He has given to you. That means you must know Him, you must love Him, and you must serve Him. There is only one way that is going to happen, and that is when we spend time with Him in prayer, when we know about Him through the Scriptures, and when we know Him in the depths of our heart through union with Him in prayer and in the sacrament of the Blessed Sacrament, our union with Him in Holy Communion. That is your dignity. That is your honor. And He has clothed you with the greatest honor and dignity because He gives Himself to you and calls you to Himself.
Come to our Lord. Do not stay away. Recognize the call which is yours and the dignity of that call. If we look back over our lives and realize that we have not lived according to the way that we should, we need to get to confession. Do not be sad and do not weep, but rather rejoice because if today you recognize the call – and Who it is that is calling you – then it is a day of great rejoicing. It is a day that is holy to the Lord, your God.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.