Monday October 4, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Galatians 1:6-12) Gospel (St. Luke 10:25-37)
In the first reading today, we hear the beginning of Saint Paul’s Letter to the Galatians and Saint Paul chastising his Galatian converts because they have abandoned the Gospel of Christ. What happened, as we will hear as the days go along, is that there were some people who came to Galatia and began telling the Gentile converts that they needed to be circumcised, that they had to become Jewish before they could really be considered Christian. So Saint Paul was trying to explain to them, You have freedom that is not of the flesh, but rather it is a freedom of spirit. Therefore, you do not have to be yoked to the law, you do not have to have a sign in the flesh of the fact that you are part of a covenant because we have a new covenant, and that new covenant gives to us a freedom of the children of God. What these people were doing was ultimately taking on the slavery of the law once again, so Saint Paul talks about himself then as a slave of Christ.
And so there are those two options: to be a slave of the law or to be a slave of Christ. To be a slave of Christ is to be a slave of love, to have true freedom; not to be yoked, not to have anything that would violate or go against one’s dignity, but rather to have the true dignity of the very thing for which we were created, that is, the love of God and the love of neighbor.
This is exactly what we are called to as well. We do not have in our day anyone who is usually trying to tell anybody that they have to be circumcised in order to belong to Christ, but we certainly have many, many, many people who are trying to preach a Gospel other than the one that Saint Paul preached. They are trying to preach all kinds of things that are wrong, but it is sure a whole lot easier than what Jesus preached and there are many people who are falling prey to it because as human beings we like to take the route of the least resistance. We like the wide and easy road rather than the rough and narrow one. So we have all kinds of people telling us, “You do not have to do this,” and, “It is okay if you do that,” and, “You have a brain; make up your own mind. You don’t need the Church to tell you. It doesn’t matter what it says, you can do your own thing.” On and on and on they go, and we have all kinds of people who have fallen prey to it.
We need to look very seriously, then, at this question. Our Lord, in the Gospel reading, asks the simple question about eternal life. He says, “What does it say in Scripture?” It is about love. Now, again, in our day there are lots of people who would take that and say, “Therefore, all that you have to do is be nice. You can give some money to the poor and you’re going straight to heaven. You can run around and espouse all kinds of causes and you’re going straight to heaven because isn’t that love of a neighbor, after all?” And while they do these things (some of which, of course, are very good, and no one would fault them for that), oftentimes they are also trying to justify lots of immorality, lots of abuses with regard to the Eucharist and the liturgy, lots of things which violate Catholic doctrine. But they are nice and they are sincere, therefore, people think they are going straight to heaven.
We need to be very careful to avoid both extremes. Not to become Catholic Pharisees on the one hand who are simply looking at dogma and saying, “This is what the Church teaches and that’s all I have to do.” We have to believe everything the Church teaches, but part of what the Church teaches has to do with the charity toward others. Then there are the others on the other extreme that say, “Be nice. As long as that’s the case, then you’re a saint.” Both extremes are wrong. We need to have the truth with charity. There is nothing else. If we try to be simply dogmatic and Pharisaical then we have missed the boat. If we just simply try to be nice we also have missed the boat. What we are seeking is true charity, true love of God, which means living and embracing the fullness of truth and true charity toward one’s neighbor, which means not being nice but seeking what is truly the best for the other person, sacrificing the self for the good of another. That is what this is all about.
Neither of these is easy. The truth is very objective and it is there for any of us, but it has some very hard elements that we have to be willing to accept. Charity is not easy because it requires that point of dying to self, of self-sacrifice. The Lord is asking us to look beyond ourselves, to look beyond ourselves to find the objective truth, to go beyond ourselves in reaching out in charity to others. That is the balance He is looking for. That is the love of God and the love of neighbor that Our Lord desires for us, to be united with God in prayer and in truth, and to be seeking always the good of others for the good of their souls and for their eternal salvation. That is what eternal life is all about: to love God and to love neighbor with one’s whole heart and soul and strength.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.