Monday February 14, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier First Week of Lent
Reading (Leviticus 19:1-2, 11-18) Gospel (St. Matthew 25:31-46)
In the Gospel reading today, Our Lord makes very clear the point regarding judgment, that the judgment is going to be based upon our actions. Now our actions are also predicated upon our faith. Those who are not Catholic always like to point out that it is by faith alone that you are saved. It never says that once in Sacred Scripture. In fact, in Saint James it says: You are not saved by faith alone. It is the only time in the entire Bible that the words “faith alone” come up, so it is very clear that it is not on faith alone that we are going to be saved. However, faith is required for salvation. But if we are going to say that we believe, then what is required is to act upon what we believe. That is precisely what Our Lord is telling us today, that it is in the actions we do toward other people that we are going to be judged.
If we are going to say that we believe in Christ, then the first thing we have to be able to do is to see Christ in other people and treat them as Christ. Now some people make it very difficult to be able to see Christ in them. Yet, at the same time, if we ask ourselves, “How did Our Lord treat those who mistreated Him,” it was still with charity. He was silent when they treated Him badly. He prayed for those who put Him to death; He did not condemn them. Then we look at ourselves and ask, “How many times have we, in essence, condemned others? How many times have we told them in reality that we hope they do not go to heaven, because we have told them that they are to go elsewhere? How many times have we treated people in a way that is unjust, in a way that is uncharitable?”
We look at Our Lord, and when it came to the Pharisees it was not that He was always “Mr. Nice.” People have this idea that to be a Christian means everything has to be “nicey-nice.” Nowhere in Scripture are you going to find that either. From our own Lord’s mouth, we hear terms like “brood of vipers,” as He calls the Pharisees. But what He is doing is telling them the simple truth, and He is calling them to conversion, to true conversion. To treat somebody with charity does not mean that we do not acknowledge the truth. If someone is doing something wrong, we can acknowledge that they are doing something wrong; but the difference is that we do not want to sit back and play the judge. It is up to God to determine who goes which direction. And the determination of where we are going to go is based in part on our belief in Jesus Christ; but the greatest part, on what we do with that belief, on how we act in accordance with that belief.
Even in the Old Testament, as we heard in the Book of Leviticus this morning, we are called to love our neighbor as ourselves. We are called to act with justice. For instance, Moses told the people that they are not to curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, they are not to withhold the wages from the day laborer, they are not to lie, they are not to be deceptive, and these sorts of things. So we can look at our own lives and we can ask ourselves, “Where are the areas of injustice? Where are the areas where I am failing to act in charity? Where are the areas where if I really believe in Christ I would be doing something different?” That is what the Lord is going to be looking at. On the Day of Judgment, we are going to be judged according to what we have done in the flesh, as Saint Paul says, that is, according to our deeds. That is made very, very clear many times over in Scripture.
So, yes, we must believe, but then we must act upon that belief. And the best way to act upon that is to see Jesus Christ in other people and to treat those people as we would Christ. If it is difficult, all we need to do is remember Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who would go down the street and see somebody lying there who was dying and had open sores with insects crawling in them and all kinds of horrible diseases. She would pick them up off the street because she saw Jesus Christ in those people. That is not what we are having to deal with. Maybe we are dealing with some people who are unjust, who are nasty and mean, or whatever. But if we can try to see Christ in those people and treat them in accordance with that understanding, then we are going to change the way that we live, then we are going to be truly living the faith that we profess. That is the basis of our judgment, so it is not just a nice idea – it is a requirement if we want to be able to go to heaven. And that is exactly what Our Lord is telling us we have to do. The judgment is based upon our actions, good or evil, depending on what we do in the body.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.