Monday March 29, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Fifth Week of Lent
Reading (Daniel 13:1-9, 15-17, 19-30, 33-62)
Gospel (St. John 8:1-11)
In the first reading today from the Book of the Prophet Daniel, we hear about Susanna, a beautiful woman who is desired by these two elderly men who plot against her not only to violate her in her innocence, but then when she refused to give into their desires, they plotted in vindication against her to destroy her, to put her to death, because she did not give them what it is that they wanted. It is interesting to note in this that in the Gospel we are reminded by Our Lord that the law of Moses said when there are two witnesses that the testimony is true. And so we have these two men who were both judges, both elders in Israel, who were claiming to be witnesses to the crime; that is why the people believed them. At the same time, however, they were both telling lies. So it is interesting that the prophet Daniel – just a little boy at this point, and this is the first time anybody would have recognized that he had this gift of prophecy that God had given to him – as he interrogates these two men, even points out: “This is the way you have treated the daughters of Israel; and they, out of fear, gave into your desires, but this woman did not.” And he tells us that these two men had been judging in an unjust manner; they had been condemning the innocent and letting the guilty go free. And so all of these things, the sins of their past and all of the things that they were now doing, the prophet tells us are now coming back on their own heads.
As we think about that, we realize within ourselves, as the prophet Ezekiel tells us: If the good man stops doing what is righteous and just and begins to sin, he will die in his sin; and if the sinful man turns from his sinful way and dies, he will die in the state of righteousness, he will be saved. We see with these two men that they did not repent of their past sins, but God in His mercy had given them every means to be able to repent, even to the point of allowing them to be elected by the people as judges and elders. Now one would think that God would not allow someone who was unjust to be a judge for the people, but at the same time what God does is He allows each one of us in our own state in life to be able to look at our own weaknesses, to deal with the things that we do not do well. So here were two men who had been sinful, who had been unjust, and now they had an opportunity to turn that around. They were allowed by God to be in a position where they would be judges and elders of the people, where they would hear the complaints of the people and make judgments and determinations based on the law. Yet rather than repenting and recognizing the position they had and starting to act in accordance with that, instead they used it as a power position. And they used that power to corrupt themselves even more.
Either way, you see the justice of God. If they would have accepted what God allowed for them and had turned their lives around, they could have repented and saved their souls. However, they refused to repent; but recognizing the authority that they had, instead of using it as authority, they used it as power, as something that was selfish rather than something to serve. They served themselves rather than the people that they were supposed to be taking care of; therefore, their condemnation was even worse because they knew better. They had a position where they could not say that they did not know the law. It would be just like if one of us, who is just an ordinary citizen, were guilty of something but we did not even have a clue that it was against the law. We may be guilty of breaking the law, but in the sight of God the violation is almost non-existent because we did not know. But if a lawyer were to do that, it would be much more serious; and if a judge were to do it, it would be more serious still.
When we look, for instance, in our own system, we know that there are corrupt people whom God allows to have positions of power. And He allows that for the same reasons: number one, to give the person an opportunity to look at their own sinfulness and to be able to repent. If they will not repent of their sinfulness, actually what they are doing is just as the prophet pointed out about these two men, that the angel of God was waiting with his sword to split them in two. They bring condemnation upon themselves, not because they have done some sinful things that maybe they did not know fully well what they were doing or could see that there was a way around it, but rather they knew fully well what they were doing and they were bringing their injustices upon others. Now for those people who have to suffer the injustice, they will be able to grow in holiness through the injustice they suffer. But for the ones who inflict the injustice, it is to them that the angel of the Lord is waiting with his sword because they knew better. They knew what the truth was and they willfully chose against it, and they were in a position where they could have done something if they would have chosen the truth. Therefore, what God is going to hold them responsible for is far, far greater.
So no matter what our position is, one does not have to be a judge or an elder of the people to recognize the position that God has given. If one is a parent, for instance, you have to deal with the same thing. If one has any position of authority in a place of work, it is the same sort of thing. If one looks simply at the vocation to which God has called a person, the more that the world would consider it a higher position, the more responsibility one is going to have before God. He is allowing each of us to be in the positions that we have precisely to help us to become saints. And it will either be the means by which we become saints, by which we save our souls, or it will be the means by which we will be condemned, by failing to live the vocation to which God has called us; and within an avocation, or a job-related position, it will be precisely in the way we live that out, because that becomes part of the duties of our state in life. If we are not obedient to the duties of our state in life, especially obedient first and foremost to the Will of God and to the law of God, we are going to be held responsible to a far higher degree than if it was something just involving our own selves.
And so as God looks at each one of us, in His mercy He allows us to be placed sometimes in the areas where we are least capable, where we have the greatest weakness, where we have even sinned the most; and He is giving each of us the opportunity to cooperate with His grace to be able to overcome those sinful inclinations in our own lives and to be able to practice virtue toward those who have been entrusted to our care.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.