September 26, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I (Amos 6:1a, 4-7) Reading II (1 Timothy 6:11-16)
Gospel (St. Luke 16:19-31)
In the second reading today, Saint Paul instructs us that we are to pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, and so on. That pursuit of righteousness, he tells us, is exactly what we have to be about because of who we are. He tells us that we are to lay hold of eternal life, the eternal life which was promised to us, and the eternal life which we confessed when we made our noble confession. That noble confession took place at the moment we were baptized, when we made the vows of baptism to reject Satan and to profess our faith in God. So if we are going to pursue this life of righteousness, which is required of those who have given their lives over to Christ, that means we have to reject everything that goes contrary to righteousness. That is precisely the point, again, that we made in our baptismal vows: to reject Satan and all of his works and all of his empty promises.
Now if we are going to live this life, then we have to pursue it with great diligence. This has become more important right now than ever before because of the situation in which we live. If we consider the words of the first reading – Woe to the complacent in Zion! Lying on their couches and eating fine foods…– if you just remove “Zion” and put “America” in there, I think you could have a pretty good idea of what we are talking about. And you could add a few more things: “Lying on their couches watching TV.” We do not have to worry about improvising music on the harp because we have all the filth that blasts out of the radios these days so people can be inundated with all kinds of unfortunate things. We have given in. The sad thing is that at the time of Amos the things that were going on in Israel were not good – the faith was in shambles – and yet because the people were wealthy, because they had a pretty easy life, they did not care. That is exactly why Amos says that even though they have all these things they are not made ill by the collapse of the house of Joseph. Well, look at what is going on in America. We have lots of wealth,, and the vast majority of people instead of being made ill over the immorality that is rampant are actually rejoicing in it. I think if the Founding Fathers of this country were to be placed in our society just for an hour, they would be absolutely horrified by what they would see. And to think of the effort they made to try to found a country that was based on faith, morality, and righteousness. Instead of rejoicing in the foundation and following the commandments, as Saint Paul tells us we are to do, we are rejoicing instead in just the opposite – reveling in it, in fact – as we have decided to dive headlong into the mire of this society.
Worse than that, we have a situation in the Church where in many ways we would have to say that the Catholic Church in America is in shambles. But tragically, the vast majority of Catholics (once again, rather than being made ill) are actually rejoicing because they no longer have to follow rules. They can do whatever they want. Mass, they say, is no longer boring because now it is fun. There is entertainment. You can show up and there is a whole band strumming on their guitars and beating on their drums and singing bizarre songs that have absolutely nothing to do with God. You look at what goes on in the sanctuary and it looks more like an anthill with all the activity that is going on rather than a place of reverence and worship. Far worse than that is that we have bishops and priests who are reveling in it, and in fact are the cause of much of it as they move the Blessed Sacrament out of the sanctuary and put the Lord in a closet somewhere, as they tear out the statues and destroy the churches. And they are far more interested in money than they are in Jesus Christ. They lie on their couches and they watch TV and they count their money. They are more interested in going on vacation and going golfing and playing games than they are in preaching the truth to the people of God. Once again, the people rejoice.
I just heard recently about a priest whom the people have tried several times to have removed from the parish he is assigned to. They are complaining bitterly about him and people are leaving the parish. They are quitting; they are leaving the Catholic Faith. And the reason? Because this priest keeps talking about Jesus and pointing to the crucifix – and they do not want to hear it. Woe to the complacent in America lying on their couches not wanting to hear the Faith, not wanting the truth, not wanting Jesus Christ, but wanting the Catholic Church to be a secular thing so that there will be no challenge to their conscience!
If we look at the Gospel reading and we put it into context, we see a rich man lying on his couch, eating sumptuously, enjoying life; and there at his door is a poor beggar, clearly starving and sick. The man does nothing, absolutely nothing, to lift a finger to help this poor man. And when the end comes after this rich man has lived a completely self-centered life, he goes to hell. The amazing thing is that even from there he calls out to Father Abraham to say, “Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water to be able to cool my tongue because I’m in torment!” Look at the selfishness and the arrogance: “Send Lazarus to take care of me.” He did not lift a finger to take care of Lazarus but now he wants Lazarus’ finger to be able to cool his tongue. That is what hell is all about; it is pure selfishness. Everyone in hell is caught up in themselves, so of course that is what he is going to ask for; it is just himself.
But now we need to look around, and especially look within, and ask ourselves, “Are we the ones who are lying complacently? Are we the ones today who are not made ill over the collapse of the house that Jesus Himself founded? Are we the rich ones who kind of like the way things are right now because we can do anything we want and our conscience does not even have to bother us because everyone else is doing it?” We are the ones, if that is the case, who will be tormented by the flames. If we live in this world as selfish individuals, we will live in eternity as selfish individuals. When Dives, the rich man, asked Abraham to at least send Lazarus to his father’s house to warn his brothers, Abraham said, “They have Moses and the prophets.” Dives said, “No, but if someone would only rise from the dead, surely they would listen to him.” Abraham said, “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, they’re not going to listen even if someone should rise from the dead.” That is in the Gospel of Saint Luke. If you look in the Gospel of Saint John, you have a man by the name of Lazarus who was raised from the dead. How did the people respond? We are told in Saint John’s Gospel that they plotted to kill Lazarus because he was too great a witness. And we have Jesus, of course, Who has risen definitively from the dead, and they paid the Roman soldiers so that they would lie to cover up the truth. People will not listen even if someone is raised from the dead because they do not want the truth, because they revel in the very things that should be their shame.
We need to make a choice. We need to pursue righteousness. We need to lay hold of the eternal life which has been promised. We need to cling to the promise and the confession of faith that we made because we have to remember there are only two ways that we can go. There are only two roads that lead to eternity and both of them are one-way streets. One is wide and smooth and easy, and it leads to eternal perdition, to the flames of torment where the rich man found himself being crushed in his own selfishness. The other is rough and narrow, and it is the way that leads to life. We have to make the choice, and it is made now. It is not something that we just choose in theory because I think if we asked every person on the face of the earth, “Would you rather go to heaven or go to hell?” most people of course would say that they want to go to heaven. But it is the question of living it, pursuing that righteousness, living according to the confession of faith that we made. It is every day and every minute of every day that we have to make that choice and put it into action, otherwise we become the complacent in America lying on their couches and watching TV and not caring in the least about the collapse of the house that is surrounding us.
So we have a choice to make. We have a choice of whether we want to live the faith that we have professed or whether we do not. We have the choice of which path we are going to take. We have the choice of where we want to spend eternity. And the choice is made now, not then. The question has been asked and it awaits the answer. The only one who can answer for you is you; you have to make the choice. Again, it is not an objective theoretical choice; it is a subjective and practical choice. If you are going to say “yes” to Jesus Christ, then you have to live it, you have to pursue it, you have to lay hold of the eternal life which was promised to you when you made your noble confession of faith. If we refuse to put our faith into practice, if we become complacent, if we rejoice in the collapse of the morality and the righteousness of America, if we rejoice in the destruction of the faith within the Church, then listen again to what the prophet Amos says: They will be the first to go into exile. The exile spoken of for us is an eternal exile away from the Promised Land, away from God forever, where we can be with Dives, the rich man, being tormented in the flames and being filled with selfishness and arrogance for the rest of eternity. The choice is ours. The question has been asked – it awaits your answer.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.