Tuesday June 8, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Tenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (1 Kings 17:7-16) Gospel (St. Matthew 5:13-16)
In the Gospel reading today, we hear about the fact that we are called to be the light of the earth and that we are to be the salt of the earth, that is, that we as Christian people are to be almost as a soul within the body. We are called to bring new life into this world, the new life of Christ. Of course, we know that as things are the world is going to reject that life, but that does not exempt us from living the faith that we profess, from a being a light in the midst of the darkness.
What that really requires of us is that we have to die to self. Our Lord tells us that our light must shine before others, so that when they see our good deeds they will give glory to the Father. Now it does not necessarily mean that we have to be out doing all kinds of things, but what it means is that we have to be putting God first, that we have to die to self, that we have to be willing to seek the good of others when the Lord chooses that that is what we are to do.
We see, for instance, in the first reading this widow from Zarephath. When Elijah comes to the town and asks her to make a cake for him, she answers that there is only a handful of flour left and then they are going to die. He said, “Make me a cake first and bring it to me, and the jug of oil will not go dry and the jar of flour will not run out.” The widow believed him, and she died to herself and put him first. This is very unusual especially when you stop to think about the fact that this was a widow with a child. She was about to feed her child, but was willing to say, “I will put myself last and I will put someone else first.” Even the last tiny little bit that she had, she was willing to give up, and she trusted God. Now this is being done for a man who also had to trust God to go to a far away place that was uninhabited and trust that ravens are going to bring him food. It is kind of the opposite of what ravens usually do, yet God used these things to test Elijah’s trust. And so Elijah first had to be willing to trust God and to put his self aside, and now this widow has to do the same.
The same is going to be true of us. When we think of times that are even somewhat extraordinary, the ones whom the Church has canonized as saints always put themselves last, even in the worst of situations. We read about some of the extraordinary holiness that would take place, for instance, in these Nazi concentration camps where everyday they were given a bowl of almost nothing and the saints would feed the sick people with their food rather than eat it themselves. They would rather go hungry themselves and let someone else eat it who needed it more than they. That is the kind of thing God would be looking for.
Our society says, “Look out for Number One. Take care of yourself. Put yourself first. After all, who else is going to take care of you if you don’t take care of yourself?” God says, Let your light shine so brightly that when people see your good deeds they will give glory to your heavenly Father. It is to die to self in order to love others, which is exactly the commandment Jesus gave to us: There is no greater love than to lay down your life for your friends. We are to love as we have been loved, He tells us. This is what it requires.
Love is not about gushy feelings. Love is not even about doing something good with our excess. Love ultimately is going to be proven when we are willing to put ourselves aside and give what we have for the sake of someone else. That is not easy. It requires heroic charity. It requires an incredible amount of grace to be able to put ourselves aside because it is not natural. Only something supernatural is going to be able to provide for us to do such things. But that is exactly what Our Lord is asking: that we will trust Him completely and that we will love. If we trust that He loves us and if we love Him and we love our neighbor as we have been commanded, He will take care of everything else.
If we are only looking out for ourselves, how is anybody going to see any light and how are they going to give glory to our heavenly Father when all that they see is us? When they see that the reason why we do what we do is for God, when they see that we put God first and we put ourselves last, then they will see God shining through us. They will not notice our part of it – they will see God – and then they will give Him the glory. That is exactly what we have been commanded to do. It is not easy. It requires an immense amount of trust, and it requires an equally immense amount of love; yet that is offered to us, but it comes at a cost, the cost of the self. But this is exactly what Our Lord requires of us as well. So as we move forward throughout our days, each one of us needs to ask that question: How much do I trust God? How much do I love God? And how much do I love myself? We are to die to self and let God shine through us so greatly that when people see what we do they will give glory to God.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.