Monday March 1, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier First Week of Lent
Reading (Leviticus 19:1-2, 11-18) Gospel (St. Matthew 25:31-46)
In the first reading today from the Book of Leviticus, the Lord tells us that we are to be holy because He, the Lord our God, is holy. Then He goes on to give a whole series of statements about what this holiness is to look like, and it is all about treating people in the proper way, with charity, with justice, and so on. And Our Lord, in the Gospel, tells us basically the same thing: that it is those who fed the hungry and gave drink to the thirsty and clothed the naked and took care of the sick and the like who are going to inherit the kingdom of heaven.
Now the important thing to understand in this is that when God tells us to be holy, He is telling us that not only do we have to have holiness of life in prayer, but it has to come out in virtue. If we are going to be truly holy as the Lord is holy, we have to act like God; we have to be like Him. But the important thing also to see in this is that the righteous did not even realize that is the way they were because they would say to Him, “Lord, when did we see You this way and take care of You or feed You or give You drink?” They did not even realize that they had done it. It was not something they were thinking about and saying, “Oh, I should have to do this.” Rather, it is something that will flow naturally from the holiness of one’s life. At the same time, those who are unrighteous are going to attempt to justify themselves. They are going to say, “Well, when did we see You this way and not take care of You? If we would have seen You this way, certainly we would have taken care of You!” And He will say, “Whenever you failed to do this for one of the least ones, you failed to do it to Me.”
So it is to be able to see Christ in others, and we can ask ourselves how often we do that. Do we see Jesus in other people? Do we treat them as we would treat Him? After all, if He were right here in front of us, we would want to do the best for Him. We would pull up a nice chair; we would seat Him; we would feed Him; we would take care of Him in whatever way that we could; we would want the very best. Yet if we do not see Him in others, then we fail to care for Him in others. This is the way the saints have done it throughout the years. When we see the heroic things that they did, it is not simply because they were looking at somebody and feeling pity for them; but rather, they were looking at someone and they saw Jesus Christ in them. They had charity, they had true love toward those people, and they cared for them because they loved them. That is what Our Lord is asking of us.
We are to be holy as God is holy. That is a command; it is not a nice idea. And in case we want to be able to suggest that that was back in the Book of Leviticus and it is not something we have to worry about anymore, we remember that Jesus Himself gave us the exact same command. It is in the imperative form; it is a command. It would have an exclamation point at the end of it if we put it into typical English. It is not an option if we are going to be Christian people. The Lord is requiring this of us. And so we need to make sure that we are in union with God, first and foremost. Not only meaning in the state of grace (which obviously has to come first), but united with God in prayer, deep in union with Him in a relationship because how can we be holy as He is holy if we do not know the holiness of the Person we are supposed to be like? So that comes first. Obviously, no one can give what he does not have. If we do not have God, we cannot give Him to anybody else. We cannot serve God in anyone else if we do not even know Who He is. How can we see Him in someone else if we do not have a relationship with Him? So that must come first.
But if we are going to have that life of prayer and if we are going to be trying to live a holy life, the Lord makes very clear what we can look at in ourselves. The objective way that we can try to see where we are at as far as our level of holiness is going is to depend on the level of charity that we have toward other people. We like to think, in our little “ivory tower” way of thinking, “My prayer life is so wonderful! I’ve got this great thing going with Jesus and isn’t this wonderful!” What happens when we walk away? That is the real question because what happens in the heart has to find its expression in our actions. If our actions betray what is in the heart, then, for many of us, we would have to say, “I’m not being very holy.” We need to look at that situation. We need to size it up honestly, and we need to make the adjustments in our lives so that we can seek to be holy, not the way that we think it ought to be, but the way that God sees it: to be holy as God Himself is holy.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.