Thursday May 19, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Seventh Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Sirach 5:1-8) Gospel (St. Mark 9:41-50)
In the first reading today from the Book of Sirach, we hear the Wise Man telling us that we need to be very careful not to become confident in our own strength, not to rely upon our own wealth, not to become too confident that God is just going to forgive anything that we do so therefore we can go ahead and sin. All of these things, he tells us, are wrong because what they are going to do is lead to a complete dependence upon the self, which, therefore, takes away any dependence upon God. Even though God is entirely merciful, it requires that we have to be repentant. If we do not think we need God and we think we can rely upon our own strength or upon our financial ability (or whatever it might be), it reduces the chances that we are actually going to turn to God to seek His mercy.
In the Gospel reading, then, Our Lord tells us exactly what we need to do with the various problems that stand in the way. He tells us that we need to get rid of them and we need to do violence to ourselves in order to get rid of them. Obviously, it is not your hand or your foot or your eye that will cause you to sin, but He is using these as examples to be able to say that what He is telling us is so important that the analogy of cutting off your hand or your foot or plucking out your eye is how serious we need to be about getting rid of sin.
All too many of us are in love with our sins; we have made quite good friends with our sinfulness, and we do not really want them gone. As long as we are doing anything too terribly major, we might try to rationalize within ourselves that it is okay: “A mortal sin here or there is no big deal because I’ll just go to confession.” That is presumption, and it is basically saying, “I want to love God as little as I possibly can – but still make sure that I’m taken care of. I can eke my way into heaven, but I don’t really want to love God with my whole heart and soul and strength.” That is not an option.
We have to strive to love God. And if we are going to be striving to love God, we need to get rid of whatever stands between God and us. That is what Our Lord is getting at, telling us that we need to take stock of what is within and we need to get rid of whatever is between God and us. Any area of sin, any area of selfishness, anything that makes us rely upon ourselves or upon our money or upon our power (or whatever it is) instead of relying upon God needs to go. And it needs to be clear and decisive, as Our Lord says, Cut it off, pluck it out, get rid of it. That is what we need to do. He is telling us, in essence, that if we are going to cut off our foot we cannot be playing footsie with sin. The devil is not someone to play with. We need to cut him and all of his filth out of our lives, and we need to be decisive in doing that. That is what Our Lord is getting at.
How badly do we really want to go to heaven? How badly do we want to be saints? How much do we really want to be holy? These are some things that we can ask ourselves. How much does our relationship with God really mean to us? Does it mean more to us than our relationship with sin and Satan? Does it mean more to us than self-love? These are the two possibilities, and the Lord is telling us – as He has made clear – that we have to love God first with our whole heart and soul and strength. So whatever it is that stands in the way of our being able to be united with Christ, He is telling us very clearly that we need to violently attack whatever that is, get rid of it, and cut it out of our lives so that we will be able to enter into the fullness of life.
The Lord is telling us that it is so bad in hell that it is better to be in heaven crippled and maimed than it is to be in hell with your whole being. It is not a place where any of us want to be, so do not play with it. We need to be clear and we need to be firm and we need to be decisive. Whatever stands in the way of our union with God, cut it out, get rid of it, pluck it out, and throw it away so that there is nothing that will block our entrance into eternal life.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.