February 6, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I (Isaiah 58:7-10) Reading II (1 Corinthians 2:1-5)
Gospel (St. Mark 5:13-16)
In the Gospel reading this morning, Our Lord says to each one of us, You are the light of the world. This is quite an astounding statement considering that He Himself is the Light. He is the Light that came into the darkness, and the darkness could not overcome it. Yet for each one of us, who is a member of Jesus Christ, if we share in His life we share also in His mission. It is His grace, it is His life, it is His power that shines within each one of us, or at least that is what is supposed to happen. We need to really look at our own lives and ask ourselves, “Do people see that light of Christ shining through me?” The question that was asked by somebody a number of years ago, I think, is one that is apropos for us: “If you were put on trial today for being Christian, would there be enough evidence against you to convict you?” Is it that evident that people would know you are truly a Christian person? The question is how will they know?
I think we can see the answer very clearly in the first reading when God, through the prophet Isaiah, tells us that we are to clothe the naked, we are to feed the hungry, we are also to shelter the homeless. He tells us beyond that that we have to rid ourselves of oppression, of false accusation, and of malicious speech. He says, It is then that your light will dawn . . . then the gloom for you will be as midday. In other words, the way that people are going to be able to see the light of Christ shining in us and through us is only if we are living the Faith that we profess. This is much more difficult than just simply knowing the Faith. To have head knowledge of Jesus is very important; to know what the Church teaches is critical for us. But imagine having to stand before the Lord one day and hear the judgment: “You knew the truth, but you refused to live it. You knew what you were supposed to do, but you didn’t want to do it.” That judgment would not be a happy one.
So we need to make sure we are doing exactly what Saint Paul says. When it comes to the Faith, it is not a matter of wise human argumentation. There are very, very few people who have ever converted to the Faith because they were convinced in their heads of what was going on; it is a question of the heart. And so he says to the people of Corinth, I came to you in fear and trembling, and, I decided to know nothing among you except for Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Recall that Saint Paul went to Corinth right after his visit to Athens. There, in the Areopagus, he gave his famous speech where he never mentioned the Name of Jesus once. He tried to deal with the Greek philosophers by talking philosophically, how he had noticed all of the altars and even one that was dedicated to an unknown god. He set out to try to teach them about this “Unknown God” and there were very few who paid attention. He learned his lesson, and from that point forward he was going to know nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
If anyone has faith, it is because of Christ, and it is faith in the crucified and risen Christ. We can look, for instance, at the miracles of Our Lord. When the disciples of Saint John the Baptist came to Him, He said all of these points: The dead are raised, lepers are cleansed, the sick are healed, the poor have the Gospel preached to them. He said that would be sign enough for John the Baptist to know Who Jesus was. Except for us, we can look at it and say, “Well, there are two thousand years’ worth of saints, some of whom have raised the dead, healed the sick, cleansed the lepers, preached the Gospel to the poor, and done any other variety of miracles, and we know they did not do those on their own, rather it was through the power of Christ.” But we cannot simply look at those sorts of things to be able to say, “This is why I believe in Jesus.”
We need to look at the Cross because all of the miracles Our Lord worked are as nothing compared to what He did for us on Calvary. The miracles only point to the reality of Who He is, but the fullness of the truth of Who He is is demonstrated only on the Cross. When we look at the Cross, we see there a Man Who is naked, Who is hungry, Who is homeless, the same Man Who told us that whatever we do to the least of His brothers we do to Him. Saint Paul, in his Letter to the Hebrews, reminds us that it is through the charity we express toward others that some have even entertained angels without knowing it. And so if we are truly going to care for those who are in need, it is caring for Christ. If we refuse to lift a finger to help someone who is truly in need, then we are looking at the Cross and saying, “I don’t want to help You either.” We refuse to acknowledge the Person Who is there on the Cross for us when we, who are citizens of heaven, were without a home because we lost grace; when we, who were called to holiness, were no longer clothed in grace, and so we were naked when it came to the life of God. We were filthy in our sins, we were starved to hear the Gospel, and He came into this world to feed us spiritually, to clothe us spiritually, to restore us to our divine sonship, and to procure for us once again our inheritance which is heaven itself.
We see the example of Christ and we know that we are to follow that example because if our light is to shine before others, it is not so that they would notice us. They are not going to be able to look at us and say, “Your argumentation was so incredible that I had no choice but to listen and believe.” The most powerful argument that you can give to anyone is the argument of your own life lived of faith in Jesus Christ, and then no one will be able to say you did it because Jesus said, When they see your good works, they will give glory to your Father in heaven. If you are living the life of Christ, then people will see that it is Christ – the true Light of the world – Who is shining through you. Have we put a bushel basket over that light? Are we afraid to live it? Are we ashamed of it? Are we allowing that light to shine in all of its brilliance? Or are we dimming that light? Or have we almost put it out?
As we think about these various things, we need only then to look forward to what is going to begin in the next few days, and that is the glorious season of Lent. And as we ask ourselves these questions about how we have been living our lives, it puts things in a perspective for us. What good is giving up chocolate or potato chips going to do if we are being unjust to people? If we are not allowing that light to shine, what we need to do is get rid of the things that are covering it up so that the light will shine. The self-denial is essential, but it has to be self-denial which is going to be expressed in charity. What is our charity toward others? It starts right at home, as Our Lord made very clear again through the prophet Isaiah that we are not to neglect our own. Sometimes the people right in our own families are among the most difficult for us to deal with. So we can begin with that. Married couples can ask themselves what they can change – not in their spouse, but in themselves – to be able to live a more charitable life. Children can ask the question of how they can treat their brothers and sisters with greater kindness. What kind of service can you provide for one another? What kind of help can you give? Then going beyond the family, what sort of charity can be yours toward those who are less fortunate? Can we deny ourselves for the sake of others? How much do we really need by comparison with how much we actually have? These are some important questions that we can ask. What are the areas of sin that impede my relationship with Jesus Himself and with the members of my own family and with humanity in general?
These are the things we need to work on for Lent to make it a truly spiritual experience for us so that we will be able to grow in holiness, so that we will be that light that shines in the darkness Most of us can probably look back over many years of giving up trivial little things and we can ask ourselves, “How much has that really helped me? How much have I grown in holiness because of the little bit that I’ve given up?” Lent is a time that we are to make changes in our lives, not merely for forty days, but for our whole lives. It is not to say, “I’ll give up this perfunctory thing so that when Easter comes I can gorge myself on it once again.” It is to say, “What can I do that is really going to make me change to be more like Jesus Christ?” That is what Our Lord is calling us to. That is what it means to be the light of the world: to allow Jesus Christ to live in us and through us, to allow His light to shine in us, and to give glory to God the Father in all that we do. That is the call which is given to each one of us, and there is only one way that is going to be done, and that is when we choose to know nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.