Thursday February 10, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Thursday After Ash Wednesday
Reading (Deuteronomy 30:15-20) Gospel (St. Luke 9:22-25)
In the first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses tells us that he places before us life and death, the blessing and the curse. And he talks all about what will happen as we make our choices. He says that if we choose life it is going to be because we have chosen to serve the Lord, to be obedient to His commandments, to do all the things that Our Lord is asking us to do, and to walk in His way. If we choose death, it is because we have chosen not to serve the Lord but to serve other gods and to do things our own way.
Our Lord in the Gospel reading, then, follows up on the point and He tells us the same thing. He places before us life and death. He places before us the blessing and the curse, as well. He tells us exactly what it is going to require. So if we are going to be obedient to the commandment of our God, what is it? You must take up your cross daily and follow Me. And He tells us that anyone who would lose his life will save it. If we want life, it is only by losing our life in order to serve Christ.
Now that sounds like it is completely foolish, and on Our Lord’s part it sounds like it is completely selfish. He says, Whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. Imagine if we ran around saying something like that – “The only way that you’re going to live is if you do something for me”! Well, the difference is that He is God, and so He is telling us that if we serve God (which is exactly what Moses told us) then we will have life. But He tells us how we are to serve Him: It is to lose our life, it is to take up our cross, and it is to follow in His way. That is exactly what Moses said, except Moses did not say, “Take up your cross,” but he told us to follow in the way of the Lord, to be obedient to His commands. Jesus is just specifying what the commandment is: We have to be willing to lose ourselves. If we lose ourselves for His sake then what happens is that we gain Him, we are transformed into Christ, and then it is Christ Who lives in us.
That is the whole goal of what this life is all about. And as we begin this holy season of Lent, it is a stark reminder to us of what our lives are to be about, that we are to be striving for life, for eternal life. There is only one way to eternal life, and that is Jesus Christ. The Lord has made it very clear that if we are going to follow that way it is going to lead right through Calvary, right to the Cross, and from the Cross to eternity. So if we want to be able to have eternal life, we have to walk the way; and the Way, the Truth, and the Life are one and the same. If we want life, that is Jesus Christ. If we want to be able to get to life, we have to walk on the way, and the way is Jesus Christ. It is the simple truth, and the truth is Jesus Christ. It is all the same. We like to try to invent some other way of being able to get there, something that seems easier and more pleasant. That is serving another god; it is not serving Jesus because He has told us exactly what it is going to require if we are going to serve Him. If we are not doing it His way – and He is the Way – then we are walking a different path; a different path is a different god, and it will not lead us to eternity.
So as we begin this time of self-denial, it is to walk upon that same path of Christ, to be rejected, to be ridiculed, to be put to death. In this case, it is putting to death that within our own selves which is not of God so that the life of Christ will live in us, to choose the Cross because that is to choose the blessing. It is to choose life. If we run away from the Cross, we have chosen the curse and we have chosen death. That is what this world has chosen, and we live in a culture of death. But, as Christian people, we espouse the culture of life, and the life comes from dying to self, the life comes from the Cross, the life comes only from union with Jesus Christ.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.