Living the Life of Christ in a Pagan World
November 14, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I (Malachi 3:19-20a) Reading II (2 Thessalonians 3:7-12)
Gospel (St. Luke 21:5-19)
In the first reading today, we hear Our Lord speaking about the events that were to happen in Jerusalem. That is, as the people were looking at all the beautiful stone work in the temple and all the votive offerings that people had brought, they were marveling at them and Our Lord told them that the day was coming when not one stone would be left upon another. They asked Him what the signs would be when this would happen, and He tells them all about the wars and insurrections, powerful earthquakes, famines, plagues, and so on. When we look at what it is that He is telling us, these are also signs that are going to be there before the end of the world. If we read further on in Saint Luke’s Gospel, Our Lord told the people that all those things would happen before that generation passed away, and indeed they did. The temple was destroyed in the year 70. And when the Romans set fire to the city of Jerusalem, the fire was so hot that it melted the gold up on top of the Holy of Holies in the midst of the temple, and the gold ran down between the huge stones that were placed one upon the next to be able to make the temple. When the Romans left, the vandals came in; and in order to get the gold out from between the stones, they tipped them off, one from the next, and picked the gold out so that it happened exactly the way Our Lord had stated. Literally, not one stone was left upon another. The entire thing was destroyed so the thieves could get the gold.
But what we also have to recognize is that what happened in Jerusalem back in the year 70 is a prefiguration of what is going to happen at the end of the world. If you have been paying attention to the news, you will have noted that the number of earthquakes has risen dramatically lately. There are certainly plagues, famines, and floods. But, of course, if you have been paying attention to anything, you will note that those things have been going on ever since the time of Our Lord. So it is not anything new and it is not necessarily anything extraordinary. But Our Lord told us that there would be something else that we could watch, and that was extraordinary signs in the sky. In and around the area of Jerusalem, around the year 70, there were lots of signs in the sky. Some of the historians tell us that the people would watch, as up in the sky bright lights would be present in the forms of horses and chariots and warriors and all kinds of different things that would terrify the people. Now I have not noted anything like that in the sky and I am not sure if any of you have, but I do not think this is the time; in fact, we can be guaranteed of that. It is not the time for the end of the world.
It is no secret that I think very much that we are in for some trouble. A chastisement, I do not think, is too far in the future, but it is not the end of the world. But just as what happened in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago is a prefiguration of what is going to happen at the end of the world, I think also that what we are going to see in our own day is going to be something similar, a prefiguration of what is going to happen at the end of time. Our Lord told the people through the prophet Malachi that when things would happen the day of the Lord would be like an oven and it was going to burn up all the evildoers and make them stubble. In Jerusalem 2,000 years ago, as I mentioned, the Romans set fire to the city. It is the only city in the ancient world that was completely destroyed by fire. We always hear about Rome, but actually only one quarter of Rome was destroyed by fire. The entire city of Jerusalem was destroyed by fire. Of course, we are told that at the end of the world all the elements – the earth, the stars, the planets, everything – are going to pass away in fire.
We do not know what is in store for us, nor does it matter because for any one of us the end could come at any time. We could have a heart attack or a stroke or get into a car accident this afternoon, and that could be the end of the world for us. So we need to keep ourselves always in the state of grace. We are not called to live virtuous lives just because the end might be near or because there may be trouble on the horizon. That would be the wrong reason for doing the right thing. We read the words in Scripture that all the evildoers will be destroyed. But for those who fear My Name, He says, the sun of justice will arise with its healing rays. Those who fear the Name of the Lord are those who are doing His Will.
Saint Paul tells us in the second reading today that we are to imitate him, but he tells us elsewhere that he himself is an imitator of Christ. So what we are to do is to imitate the example that we have in Our Lord, in our Blessed Lady, in the apostles, in all of the saints who have lived throughout the ages. We have extraordinary examples of what the life that we are to live is all about. And Jesus makes very clear to us what it is going to require. If we are going to truly live according to the way that we are supposed to live, we are going to be treated the way that Our Lord was treated and the way the apostles were treated. Our Lord tells us that we will be persecuted, that some of us will even be put to death. He tells us that we will be hated by all on account of His Name. Now I am not talking about going out and trying to be obnoxious and irritate people; I am simply saying: Live a Catholic life.
If you truly live a Catholic life, you are spending time everyday in prayer. If you are trying to be virtuous, you are not going to be liked and you are not going to be acceptable. It is not because you are doing anything that is unlikable, but it is because of what you stand for. We live in a pagan society. We live in a society that has given itself entirely over to sensuality, to selfishness, and so on, and if you are going to try to live a life that is in accordance with that of Christ that is not the way you are going to live. People are going to see that the way you live is different. You are not going to act like they do; you are not going to speak like they do. The filth that comes out of people’s mouths these days is a tragedy, but even worse it mirrors the way they live their lives. The way they dress, the way they act, the way that speak, their whole demeanor is in complete violation of their own dignity. But everybody else is doing it, and so we might think that we should too. We know better, and we know if that is the way we are going to live that on the day of the Lord we are the ones who are going to be stubble because we will have rejected Him in our actions.
We have to live according to the way of Christ. We have an opportunity in our day to be the greatest saints the world has ever known – all you have to do is live the life. If we look at the apostles and see how they were treated, they lived lives of virtue, they brought the truth out into a pagan world, and in gratitude for that all of them, with the exception of Saint John, were martyred. They tried twice with Saint John but it did not work, so they finally threw him in a cave out on the island of Patmos; but it was not because they did not try to kill him. The Lord tells us we are going to be dragged before governors and magistrates, and He tells us the reason for that is so we will be able to give testimony to Him. So we need, each one, to ask ourselves in the depths of our hearts (and do not just simply answer theoretically; look at it practically): If something were to happen, would you give testimony to Jesus? Or would you wimp out so that nothing happened to you, so that they would let you go, so that they would not hurt you, so that they would stop persecuting you? Are you willing to walk away from the Lord in order to save yourself? Are you willing to live like the pagans around us just in order to be liked? Are you willing to act like the people that surround you just so they do not treat you badly?
These are severe temptations that all of us are going to have to face, and what we probably face already. We need to make the choice. The choice has to be lived out in our day-to-day lives, because if the day comes when there truly is a persecution, how are we going to stand unless we have stood up to the little persecutions that we have to deal with everyday? How are we going to remain faithful to Our Lord in an extraordinary circumstance if we cannot remain faithful to Him in ordinary circumstances? Our Lord is giving to each of us the greatest gift and a golden opportunity because we have the opportunity to become saints. We live in a society in which there has never been a greater chance to be a saint, and you have that opportunity. All you have to do is go out into this pagan world that we live in and be the light, be the salt of the earth, be a true Catholic.
Bring Jesus Christ out into the world by the way you live, by the way you act, and by the way you speak. Do not apologize for Jesus and do not be embarrassed of your faith – live it. You do not have to say much of anything. People will see it, and when they see it they will not like you because they do not like Him. Let us be clear about it. It is not a personal thing; it is not about you. They hate Him, and if they see Him living His life through you they are going to reject you because they are rejecting Him in you. It is nothing we can take credit for. It is nothing to be proud of, but rather it is something we can rejoice in, that we have been found worthy to suffer on behalf of the Name. That is exactly the way the apostles lived and we are to imitate the way that they lived. I suspect for most of us, if we were really honest, we would have to admit that we have a long way to go. But at least if we are trying, if we are struggling to try to live according to the way that we know we should, then we are on the right track. And we can be confident that if we are doing what we are able God will provide the grace to do the rest.
But we have to do our part. We have to try. We cannot sit back and say, “It’s too scary. The cost is too great.” Look at the Cross and look at the cost. Jesus did not think the cost was too great for you. Are we going to say that the cost is too great for Him? If we truly love Him, we will be faithful to Him, we will stand with Him, we will be persecuted with Him, we will be hated with Him, and, God willing, we will even have the chance to die with Him. There is no greater privilege in this life, but we have to be willing. The old saying is “Before you can die a martyr’s death, you have to live a martyr’s life.” So now, in our day-to-day lives, minute by minute, not in the extraordinary moment but in the ordinary moments of day-to-day life, every moment of every day, we need to embrace our faith. We need to live it, we need to bring it into the world, and we need to be united with Jesus Christ in our words, in our actions, in every aspect of our lives, so we will be that light of the world, so we will be imitators of Him and continue to live His life. When we are doing that, we will also be guaranteed of the promise of Our Lord that the Sun of Justice, Jesus Christ, will allow His healing rays to shine upon us. Not the rays of justice in this case to be able to convict us of our sins, but the rays of His mercy to heal us, to unite us with Himself, and to bring us from this vale of tears to the eternal glory prepared for us in heaven.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.