July 4, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I (Isaiah 66:10-14c) Reading II (Galatians 6:14-18)
Gospel (St. Luke 10:1-12, 17-20)
In the Gospel reading today, Our Lord tells His disciples that they are to go out to all the towns and villages where He had intended to visit and they were to make one announcement: The kingdom of God is at hand. If the people received them, then they would be blessed; if the people did not receive them, they were to shake the dust from their feet and they were to make the announcement nonetheless that the kingdom of God is at hand. There would be no excuse for those people, Our Lord makes very clear, because they had heard the truth that the kingdom of God is in their midst but they had rejected it.
Today the exact same announcement has to be made. How many people who were born and baptized into the Catholic Church have rejected the Church? They have decided either that they know better than the Church and therefore they do not have to follow the teachings of the Church, or they have decided that they could find someplace that was more fun and so they have left the Church, or in essence they have decided that they do not need the Lord at all and so they do nothing. Now, of course, these will also be people who are very quick to tell you they still believe in God, as though that is somehow going to get them somewhere. We have to be very clear: The Lord came into this world and He called people to repentance. He called people to change their lives and that has not changed. The same proclamation is being made that the kingdom of God is in your midst.
The kingdom of God in this world is the Roman Catholic Church, and it is there for anyone who desires the fullness of truth. We live in a time where we have lots of people who want to call themselves Catholic but do not want to follow the teachings of Christ. Once again, we must be very clear: They have divorced themselves from the Church. There is no such thing as a Catholic with a “but” at the end of that; you either are Catholic or you are not. If you are Catholic, it means you are going to follow the fullness of the teachings of Christ; and if you do not want to follow the teachings of Christ, you have cut yourself off from Christ. You can still say you believe in Jesus – but so does Satan. That is not saying much just to be able to say, “Well, I believe in God,” or, “I believe in Jesus.” Saint James says that the demons do as much and they tremble, but that was not enough to keep them from falling and it certainly is never going to be enough to get them out of hell. They have made their choice. Oh, they believe in God, and not only do they believe in Him but they know God. They know the reality of God, they know the reality of what God requires, and they decided that they knew a better way. Jesus says in the Gospel reading that He saw Satan fall like lightning from the sky.
But He tells us, Do not rejoice so much that the demons are subject to you as that your names are written in Heaven. The only thing that matters is to be able to go to Heaven; nothing else matters at all. Everything needs to be looked at in light of eternity: “Is this going to bring me closer to God, or is it going to lead me away from Him?” Nothing else matters. Everything is going to be left behind; everything in this world is passing. The whole world is going to pass away one day in fire, and what will remain is our souls. So we need to look very carefully at what it is that we are doing. Are we saying that we believe in Jesus but our lives betray the reality that we do not? Or are we truly seeking to live the life of Christ? Saint Paul makes very clear what that is going to be when he says, May I boast in nothing but the Cross of my Lord Jesus Christ through which I have been crucified to the world and the world has been crucified to me. He understood there was only one thing that was of true value, and that was eternal life. And there is only one way to eternal life, and that is through the Cross.
We look at the first reading and we hear about Israel and the New Jerusalem and about nursing with delight and being fed. That is exactly what we have the opportunity to do. The Church is the New Jerusalem, the New Israel in our midst, and we have the fullness of the teaching of Christ. We have the fullness of truth right there at our disposal to feed our souls, and we will find comfort and we will rejoice. But notice what God says right at the very beginning of the reading: that those rejoicing in Jerusalem are those who have mourned over her. When we look at the state of the Church today we need to mourn, not because somehow the teaching is not there because it is –the fullness of the truth is not going to be destroyed or taken away or watered down, it is there for anybody who wants it. The Church is still the Mystical Body of Christ and the fullness of truth subsists only in the Roman Catholic Church, as the Second Vatican Council tells us. All of that is there. So it is not the Church per se that we would mourn over but it is the deplorable state of what is going on within the Church that we need to mourn over, but to do so in a proper way – not gloating: “I have the truth and these other poor souls do not,” that is not what it is about; not rejoicing: “Because the vast majority of Catholics are not living their faith, it’s okay for me not to live my faith either. After all, if the majority is doing it, it must be all right. That’s the American way, isn’t it?” We all know better than that too. But it is to be able to look at the reality and see that there are people who are making willful choices against the truth and against God. We need to pray for those people. We need to bring to the world the same announcement that the kingdom of God is at hand.
In the last line of the first reading, it says that you will see the power of God as He restores Jerusalem. In our day, we are going to see the power of God as He restores the Church. Not to the glory of all the wealth and all the things that one might think about, but rather to the glory of the truth, to pure and unadulterated worship of God. That is what the Church is all about. We are going to see that happen, and what a glorious day it is going to be! But before that happens, the Church is going to be crucified and we will be able to say with Saint Paul, I bear the marks of Jesus in my body, and we will rejoice in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. The choice is given to each one of us. The time is at hand. Are we going to choose the Lord? Are we going to walk with Him to Calvary? Are we going to allow ourselves to be crucified with the Church? Or are we going to abandon Christ in the time of His Passion? Either way, the announcement is the same, but the question we have to ask is “Are we going to be ready to receive Our Lord, or are we going to reject Him? Is He going to shake the dust from His feet right in front of us because we do not want anything to do with Him, because we are embarrassed of Him, because what He is asking of us is too hard?” Look at the crucifix and see the price of your soul. Look at how valuable you are to God. Was that too hard? Jesus did not think so; in fact, He told His disciples that this is what He was longing for. It is what He desired.
Are we willing to go with Him to Calvary? Are we willing to be crucified with Christ? Each and every one of us without exception is going to need to make that choice because the day is at hand. Are we willing to go with Jesus? Are we willing with Saint Paul to boast in the Cross of the Lord? Not at a distance, not theoretically, but from the Cross. Are we willing to be crucified with Christ? If so, you are going to see the glory of the Church restored in the fullness of what She truly is. The truth will be recognized, accepted, and understood by all those who are willing to go to the Cross with Our Lord. The truth is going to be rejected and it is going to be trampled underfoot by those who reject the Cross. There are only two choices in this situation. It is either for Jesus Christ or it is against Him. It is for the Cross or it is against the Cross. It is to be crucified with Christ or it is to run away. There will be no standing at a distance looking and saying, “Well, yeah, I believe in Jesus but…” The dust will be shaken against us and we will have made our eternal choice.
We need to make that choice, we need to make it seriously, and we need to be committed to what it is that we have chosen. The glorious day of the Lord is at hand and we need to praise Him for that. What a joy that we have the opportunity to be crucified with Christ. The saints throughout history have longed for this day and they did not see it, but God in His mercy has chosen us to have the privilege of being crucified with the Church. We have to make a choice. The Mystical Body is soon to be nailed to the Cross – are you willing to be nailed with Him? Or are you going to walk away? There will be no standing at the foot of the Cross, at a distance, beating our breasts and wondering what happened. If you are not on the Cross, you have no part of Christ. Anyone who wants to be a bystander has cut themselves off from the Lord. We need to be very, very clear so that no one will be able to say they did not know. Each one of us with Saint Paul will be able to say, May I boast in nothing but the cross of my Lord Jesus Christ through which I have been crucified to the world and the world to me. Each one of us who is willing to go to Calvary with Christ will be able to say, I bear the marks of Christ in my own body. We finally, thanks be to God, have an opportunity to be real Catholics, to be real Christians, to really put into action the faith that we profess. This is the most glorious of all times, if we are willing to accept His invitation. The kingdom of God is at hand. The choice is entirely ours. Will we choose the world? Or will we be crucified through the world? Will we choose the Cross and ascend in glory to heaven? Or will we reject the Cross and fall like lightning from the sky? There are only two possibilities, and the kingdom of God is at hand.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.