Monday August 16, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Ezekiel 24:15-23) Gospel (St. Matthew 19:16-22)
In the first reading today, the prophet Ezekiel is told by God that the delight of his eyes, the joy of his heart, is going to be removed from his life; and, of course, that was his wife. But for many of us, if God told us that the delight of our eyes and the joy of our heart was going to be removed, it would not be a person; it would be some kind of material thing or quite a number of material things, for all that matters. All we need to do is look at our own lives and ask ourselves, “What is it that I place as the priority?” Sometimes it may be some external thing entirely, some hobby that we may have. Sometimes it may just be something like a car or some collection of little knick knacks or whatever we have put lots of time and money into and that we kind of place in a position that is far greater than what it really deserves. But, whatever the case may be, there are times when there are things that are not bad in themselves but become a problem for us if they get in the way of our relationship with God. So if the Lord were to say to us today, “The delight of your eyes and the joy of your heart is going to be taken from you,” what would that be – and why?
The Lord tells this rich young man today in the Gospel that if he wants to be perfect – not just if he wants to be able to go to heaven, but if he wants to be perfect – Sell what you have and give it to the poor, and then you will have treasure in heaven. The young man went away sad because he had many possessions.
Now we think about the way that God has worked here. Ezekiel’s wife, who is the joy of his heart and the delight of his eyes, he is not to mourn; he is not to cry when his wife dies. But we, on the other hand, would probably mourn and weep if some material thing was taken away from us. And so then we look at this and say, “Well, what’s more important to us?” If we would weep and we would be sad because some material thing was removed from our lives, that tells us just how attached we are. It wasn’t that the prophet was not devastated by the death of his wife, but it was a matter of God showing him that this is what the people were going to do. They were going to lose what was really the most important and they were not going to weep and they were not even going to be sad because they did not care. Other things that should not have been more important are what became more important to them. In this case, it was the temple; God was going to let His sanctuary be defiled, and the people would not even have wept and they would not have cared.
Once again, we can look at ourselves, we can look around the world: Each one of us is the temple of the Lord. How often it has been defiled! How many people are in mortal sin and they do not care! They do not weep; they are not sad. They revel in the fact; they rejoice in whatever it is they are doing that is getting them into the state of mortal sin and keeping them there, and they do not want to get out of it! So, once again, we have to ask ourselves, “Where are the priorities in people’s lives?” It is not God, and the greatest commandment first and foremost is to love God. That is going to bring the greatest joy to our hearts, but instead we have found our joy either in material things, or, even worse, in sinful things, and we revel in it because we do not want God to be the center of our lives. If we were to lose Him, there are all too many people in this society that would not even notice. They would not care; they would not weep; they would not be sad because they have chosen sin over God. They have chosen materialism over a true spirituality. They have chosen self instead of the Lord. They have chosen the world instead of heaven.
The temple of the Lord has been defiled, and nobody
seems to care. For those to whom the Lord has given at least a love for Him and
a desire for Him, we need to make sure we are doing everything we can to make
the temple of the Lord beautiful, to give Him the love and the worship that
belongs to Him, that is rightfully His, because the Lord’s temple, His
sanctuary, is being defiled left and right. At least if there would be a few
who truly are trying to seek Him, who are not just saying, “Well, what’s the
minimum I need to do to get into heaven? Just don’t break the Ten
Commandments…” But if we could say, “The Lord has commanded me to be perfect;
what do I need to do to be perfect? I need to get rid of all attachments. I
need to break away from everything that is keeping me from God. I need to set
my heart completely on Him. I need to truly be the sanctuary of the Lord, a
place for God to dwell, a place where He is worshiped, a place that is set
aside only for Him,” and remove from our lives everything that leads us away
from Him, then we will be perfect.
Then we will be able to love God with our whole heart and soul and strength, and we will be doing what we have been commanded to do.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.