Thursday June 3, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Ninth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (2 Timothy 2:8-15) Gospel (St. Mark 12:28-34)
In the Gospel reading today, Our Lord lays out very clearly for us exactly what is expected, that the greatest commandment is to love God with our whole heart and soul and strength. Now that means, of course, that is exactly where we should be putting our effort. What happens these days is that we put our effort in lots of other places claiming that it is loving God, but it oftentimes has nothing to do with loving God. It usually has to do with loving ourselves. It either makes us feel good that we are doing something or it is just about simply trying to gain something (if we do something nice for someone else maybe they will return the favor) or trying to impress someone else or whatever it might be. But very often it has nothing to do with serving the Lord and loving Him.
So when Our Lord tells us that we are to love God with our whole heart and soul and strength, and that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, it is to pour ourselves out, to sacrifice ourselves. That is why it is worth more than any burnt offering or sacrifice, because all that is is sacrificing an animal or sacrificing something that belongs to you this is the sacrifice of your own self. That is what love is all about. It is a self-sacrifice; it is giving yourself for the sake of another. That is what Our Lord is telling us is the greatest of all. It is giving without expecting anything in return.
Now this is something, as we know, that we have all made a promise to do. The Lord has commanded us that this is what we are to do. He has told us that it is the greatest commandment in the law, and we know that is what is incumbent upon us. Still, we struggle even making the attempt to do it, let alone carrying it out. So we have to keep praying, certainly, for the grace to do so. But we need also to be very careful because Saint Paul makes it very clear as he says, This saying is trustworthy: If we have died with Him, we shall also live with Him. In other words, if we have loved Him to the end, we are going to live with Him. If we are willing to die to self so that we can be united with Him, then we are going to be with Him for eternity. If we persevere, we will also reign with Him, Saint Paul says. It is the same point. But if we deny Him, He will deny us. He told us that explicitly: If you deny Me before men, I will deny you before My Father in heaven and before His angels.
And so we have to realize the effect and the consequences of our actions or lack thereof. We spoke yesterday about being embarrassed of the Lord, being ashamed of Christ. That is, in essence, to deny Him; and if we deny Him, He will deny us. He made it very clear. Saint Paul says, If we are unfaithful, He will still remain faithful for He cannot deny Himself. He has made the promises, and He is faithful to His promises. That is something that cannot change. He is faithful; we do not have to worry about that at all. It is our own fidelity that we have to be concerned about because that fidelity is either to remain united with Him or to cut ourselves off from Him. We can deny Him in our words, we can deny Him in our actions, or we can deny Him by failing to act or failing to speak when we should because of fear or embarrassment or shame or whatever it may be.
Again, we just have to ask the question: If I truly love someone and, in this case, with my whole heart and soul and strength would I ever deny that person? Would I be embarrassed of that person? Or ashamed of that person whom I truly love? Certainly not. And in this case, it is even more than on a human level, because this Person has never done anything that is wrong, embarrassing, or shameful. The most we could say is that because He is perfect we are embarrassed. Is any of us going to say something so stupid? Because He never sinned, we are embarrassed? Because He died for us, we are embarrassed? I do not think so. He did not deny us, He did not deny His heavenly Father, and neither can we.
So we need to look at this commandment and we need to really consider how we are living it. Are we really trying to love God with our whole heart and soul and strength? Or is God just there and we want Him there and that is nice? It eases our conscience and we can say that we have God in our life. Or is God really the top priority? Are we putting Him first? That is what is required; anything less winds up in one way or another being a denial because we are abandoning what we have promised. What is required and the consequences of refusing to follow it are laid out very clearly, and what is required is exactly what we were created for. So it is not something beyond us, it is not anything too difficult, and it is certainly not anything that will violate our dignity but just the opposite: to love God with our whole heart and soul and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.