Thursday June 10, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Tenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (1 Kings 18:41-46) Gospel (St. Matthew 5:20-26)
In the Gospel, Our Lord tells us that if we have anything against another person that we are to be reconciled with that person before we come to the altar of God, and if we have any anger in our hearts that we are going to be liable for that, that we are going to have to answer for such a thing. We like, of course, to justify ourselves as to why it is okay for us to be angry: “After all, look at what this person did; I have a right to be angry,” and all the things that we like to say. But Our Lord tells us that if this is the situation and we do not reconcile, we are going to be thrown into Purgatory and we are going to have to sit there until we deal with it, until we have “paid the last penny.”
Now He tells us there are two ways we can deal with it. Either we can settle on the way to court or we are going to have to sit in Purgatory until we pay the last penny. So the question is pretty obvious: Is it better to forgive now, or is it better to sit in Purgatory for years and years and years until we pay the last penny? In which case, we still have to forgive; we still have to let go because nobody is going to heaven if they have all kinds of junk they are hanging onto. Obviously, it is much better to let go now, to practice the kind of charity that we need, as the Lord requires. Again, it is not an easy thing. It is not something which is natural. But remember that we do not live merely on the natural level; we live on a supernatural level because we have the grace of God at work within us.
You can look, for instance, at what happened in the first reading. When Elijah is speaking to Ahab, who is far and away one of the worst kings that Israel ever had, at one point when Elijah went to Ahab, Ahab looked at him and said, “Have you found me out, my enemy?” These were not friends, at least from Ahab’s point of view; and certainly Ahab was not a friend of Elijah in the sense that he was a scoundrel. He did not want Elijah around because Elijah was a thorn in his conscience. Yet, at the same time, here is Elijah looking at one who considers Elijah to be his enemy and Elijah is saying to him, “Go up and eat and drink because there is the sound of rain.” “Now,” he says to his servant, “go and tell Ahab to hitch up his horses and go before he gets caught in the rain.” Most of us would have sat back and snickered to ourselves and thought, “Ha! This ought to serve him right; He’ll get stuck in the mud! And he deserves it, after all.” That is not what Elijah did, so it is a lesson that we can learn.
The same thing with Our Lord, Who forgave the people who were murdering Him – and that, of course, is us; we are the ones who put Him there. He prayed, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” So it is not just the soldiers; it is not just the chief priests; it is all of us who have sinned. We are the ones who put Him there, and yet He forgave.
Now there are some pretty horrendous things that happen in the lives of some people, horrible things. To forgive is very, very painful and difficult, and yet it is precisely by doing that that we will become saints. If we are willing to unite ourselves with Christ, if we are willing to follow His example, we will be able to avoid Purgatory because we have practiced the charity that we are called to, we have worked through the horribly painful things even now in this life and we will not have to deal with them in the next. Remember, if we work this stuff through now, it is meritorious; in Purgatory, it is not. If we work through it now, it means we will be able to love God more, not only now but for eternity; in Purgatory, that will not happen. So this is the time that we can really take up the cross and follow in the footsteps of Our Lord, to be willing to forgive, to let go, whatever it might be.
As I have asked you before, what good is all your anger doing? It does not matter who the anger is at – somebody who violated you, someone who stole something from you, someone who hurt you badly, someone in the Church because they are doing stupid things or they are not doing their job right, someone in the government, whoever it might be – is your anger helping? Is your anger hurting the person that you are angry at? No, it is hurting you, and only you. What good is it doing? Nothing. It is only in our own best interest anyway to let go of it, and it is doing exactly what we have been commanded to do.
We have the example of Our Lord and of the saints, and we have the command of Our Lord. So we need to take that up and stop justifying ourselves as to why it is okay to be angry. They may well be true, all the things that we can point to, but we are not justified. We will be truly justified (that is, we will be truly just) when we love as we have been loved, when we forgive as we have been forgiven, when we are truly free and we are being obedient to what we have been asked to do. Then and only then will we be justified. Then we can truly and honestly come to the altar of God because we have forgiven and our hearts are now free and wide open to receive the gift that God wishes to give us in the Blessed Sacrament.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.