Thursday November 4, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Philippians 3:3-8a) Gospel (St. Luke 15:1-10)
In the first reading today, Saint Paul begins with something that seems a little odd to us; he begins by saying, We are the circumcision. In the Old Testament, of course, the circumcision of the males was the very sign of entrance into the covenant. That was something that was no longer the case with Christians (remember that this was one of the points they had determined at the Council of Jerusalem, that the converts did not have to become Jews before they became Christians and therefore the males did not have to be circumcised), and so when Saint Paul is talking to his Gentile converts and says, We are the circumcision, it seems to turn everything completely backwards until you stop and listen a little more deeply.
Moses, as well as Jeremiah and a couple of others, made a rather interesting statement to the Jewish people, speaking on behalf of God, and he said, Circumcise your hearts, not your foreskins. This is something that is possible then for both males as well as females; and it is something, as Saint Paul is pointing out to the people, that is not about the flesh it is about the spirit. If our hearts have in a spiritual way been circumcised, what that means is that whatever has held the heart to be invulnerable has now been removed. Therefore, when he talks about being able to worship in the Spirit of God, it is because the Spirit of God can now dwell within us. That which kept God away from us has been removed completely. The heart is now open so that God can enter in, and we can no longer simply focus on external things, but now on what is really true.
That is why Saint Paul says that whatever gain he had from the observance of the law he now considers as loss because of the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ. Then he goes even further and says, I consider everything everything as loss except for Christ. It is because everything else is material, everything else is external, and Saint Paul is looking inside and he is saying, I have God. What need do I have of anything else? If I have God, I have everything. He is no longer looking outside of himself and saying, Here is what I do to follow the law, but rather he is looking inside and saying, I love God. I have the Lord dwelling within, and therefore I serve the Lord out of love through the power of the Holy Spirit. It is no longer me making a decision that these are the laws Im going to follow rigidly on the outside, but rather it is the Holy Spirit of God working within, teaching me that the reason to follow the law is love. And so it is no longer just following that external observance as we have so often spoken, but it is a change of heart, it is about love, it is about an internal observance that finds its expression externally. That is the point Saint Paul is making for us: number one, that we do not have to go back and take on the precepts of the law; and, number two, that we have something that is so far surpassing what the law ever could do because we have dwelling within us God Himself. That is the point he is making.
So we can only look within and ask ourselves, Is my heart vulnerable? Am I allowing the Lord to dwell within? Am I allowing Him to be the Lord of my life? Am I being obedient to the directives of the Holy Spirit? Am I allowing God to do whatever He wants to do within me? If not, then we are not opening our hearts completely. We still have to go back and say that we are supposed to be the circumcision of the heart. But maybe our hearts still need to be circumcised; maybe we need to remove whatever is blocking the entrance of God into the very depths of our being, because once we can do that we will recognize with Saint Paul that everything else is loss. Nothing else really matters except God and whatever it is that He wants for us.
I can assure you, in the very words of Our Lord, that when we do that, when we get rid of whatever is standing between us and God and get our hearts wide open, there will be more rejoicing in heaven than over all kinds of people who did not need to open their hearts because they already had. If you want to give to Our Lord, to the angels and the saints, the greatest joy, the greatest gift, give Jesus your heart. Open your hearts to receive the Lord and give all to Him. There will be great rejoicing in heaven over the heart of one sinner who has chosen now to be completely vulnerable to God and to allow the Lord to enter within and make His dwelling within each of us.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.