Will We Remain Faithful?
June 5, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I (Hosea 6:3-6) Reading II (Romans 4:18-25)
Gospel (St. Matthew 9:9-13)
In the first reading today from the Book of the Prophet Hosea, the Lord says, In the time of affliction they will return to Me. If we put this into context, the Lord is saying that, first of all, it is through trials and difficulties that the people of Israel are going to return. And immediately before the passage that picks up in the first reading today, we hear the prediction of the resurrection of Our Lord from the dead, that after two days He will rescue us and on the third day He will raise us up. It is all about having faith in God. The people had gone astray from the Lord, and the Lord therefore allowed them to be overtaken by a number of problems and difficulties. They ran to various kings for help, but no one was able to heal their wound, God said. Finally, He said, they will turn to Me.
Things have not changed in all the years since the prophet Hosea. If we look around at the situation in our world today, we see that people have strayed from the Lord – and have strayed rather substantially. Therefore, what God is going to do is allow us to be afflicted with a variety of problems and difficulties. We have a choice to make. It is either to choose God or to choose against Him. We can get angry that God is allowing problems, we can be angry that God is allowing us to live in a pagan society, but what good is that going to do? To whom shall we go, as Saint Peter asked. There is only one who has the words of eternal life, and that is Jesus Himself. What a blessing we have to be able to live in a time like we do, to live in a time where people do not believe, where people think that they can rely on their money and their material wealth and their power and whatever else they think they can rely on. Anyone with faith knows that is not the case.
But if we look at the situation again in Hosea, God asks Ephraim and Judah what He is going to do with them because, He says, Your piety is like the morning cloud, like the dew that quickly passes away. In other words, when things are too easy, you think you do not need God; when things are too difficult, you get angry with God. Either way, the devil has us by the tail and he says, “Well, just deny God one way or the other; it doesn’t matter.” We live now in a time where we have to choose God or not. As I have said many times from this pulpit, what a great blessing we have to live in this day and age because we can no longer play the game of saying that we are American and we are Catholic too. You either have to choose to be Catholic, in which case you are going to be ridiculed or rejected, or you have to choose to be a pagan like the rest of America.
Now if we look at the difficulty of the time that we live in and the necessity for faith, there are people who will turn to God in time of affliction because they think something is going to happen. That is why God says, I desire love, not sacrifice, and knowledge of my ways rather than holocausts. In other words, if you look back a couple of years ago when two airplanes crashed into buildings out in New York, there were traffic jams on Sunday morning. Churches were full. People were hurting and they turned to the Lord. Two weeks later, there were no more traffic jams on Sunday morning and the churches were back to where they were before. People did not need the Lord anymore. God wants love, not just showing up at Mass on Sunday and saying, “Good enough.” This is to be a 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year deal. We are to live our lives for Christ.
If we look in our society right now, we see that around the world we wonder why God does not intervene. Right now in this world, we kill 46 million babies a year. That is how many we have killed in America since 1973, but every year internationally 46 million babies are put to death. Now we would like to be able to say, “God’s not going to tolerate this for a minute! Kill one of His little ones and He’s going to intervene with a lightning bolt and take care of the problem.” But He hasn’t. So now we have gone on to killing the elderly. We have gone on to euthanizing the handicapped. And we are actually rejoicing in this country about it. I was at a nursing home recently where a 102 year-old woman was quite sickly, and her daughter showed me what the nursing home had given her. And particularly the page that they had pointed out to her to read said, and I quote, “The Benefits of Dehydration as Your Loved One Prepares to Die.” That is what they did to Terri Schiavo. They dehydrated her to death. They killed her. The benefits of dehydration – that is what is being pushed on the elderly and on the infirm. Once again, we would like to say, “God’s not going to tolerate it.” But thus far He has. Now we have some unfortunate souls in Korea claiming that they can clone a human being. We would like to say, “God won’t tolerate it.” But God has shown Himself to be extraordinarily patient.
That patience, as Saint Peter tells us, is directed towards salvation. And that salvation has to do with a choice that we make. As Saint Paul tells us in the second reading today, we have to be like Abraham. Abraham believed even when it seemed ridiculous. God had made him a promise, and 75 years later the promise still was not fulfilled. He was 100 years old and his wife was 90, and they were supposed to have a baby. It does not normally work that way. But we are told that Abraham believed and it was credited to him as righteousness. Saint Paul then goes on to say, It was not for Abraham alone, but for all of those who would believe, not believe as Abraham did, but believe in the resurrection of Jesus and the power of God Who raised Him from the dead.
Imagine the ridicule that Abraham would have taken when he was 100 and his wife was 90 and he said, “You know what? We’re going to have a baby!” He would have sounded like a total idiot to anybody who would have been listening. And he was the one who was right, and it was credited to him as righteousness. Today, to be Catholic in this society appears to be complete foolishness. If you are really going to live your faith, you are going to be ridiculed. But you know that you are right. And that is not an arrogant statement because it is not our own opinion about what is right and wrong, about what is true and false – it is the teaching of Jesus Christ given to us through His Church. It is objective and it is there for anybody who wants to accept it. And if we are going to believe, it will be credited to us as righteousness.
But we have that choice to make. As God allows things to get worse – and they are going to continue to get worse – the choice becomes more radical. Are we going to believe when it looks hopeless? when it looks completely ridiculous? when people are going to think we are fools for continuing to believe? when it seems that Satan is the one who is powerful and Jesus is not? The Lord told us that there would only be a small flock, a remnant. We know that many are going to fall away. Yet we are asked to continue to make that choice to remain faithful, to look like fools for Christ’s sake, as Saint Paul said that he was 2,000 years ago. Are we willing to do it?
The Lord tells us again in the Gospel, repeating what we heard in Hosea, Go and learn the meaning of the words, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” He came to call the sinners, not the righteous. The ones who are living the Faith to the fullest right now are the ones who were the biggest sinners that you have ever met, the ones that Satan had in his grasp. They recognized his lies and they were touched by the grace of God to convert their lives. Now they are living their faith because they know what Satan has to offer, they know what his lies are, they know what the traps are. They have been there. And it does not matter how bad things get in the world, they are not going back to the devil. But for those who have had it pretty easy, those that could say, “Well, I’m Catholic but I like to live the pagan American life,” they are the ones who have the greater risk of falling away because they think that what Satan has to offer is something good. And they think they are righteous already because they came to church on Sunday and that was good enough.
God is looking for mercy, for love, for knowledge of the ways of God. That does not happen one hour a week; that is the way we live our lives. And that is the choice each one of us is faced with. We have to choose to follow Christ, to be at the table with the sinners and the tax collectors, which is exactly what happens when we come forward to receive Communion. God loves us that much that He comes to us, sinful as we are, and continues to give Himself for us. And He continues to call us, to say, Follow Me. Remember, if we are going to follow Him, it is to follow Him to Calvary. The idea of following Jesus on Palm Sunday as He enters triumphantly into Jerusalem sounds pretty good. The idea of following Jesus to the other side of Jerusalem with a cross on His shoulders going up to Calvary does not sound so good to us. But if we are going to follow Him, we need to follow Him all the way.
In this pagan society in which we are living, we have a choice: to live our faith and have it credited to us as righteousness, or to choose to live like most of the rest of the world. We know the results eternally of what will follow. In our humanness, it is easy to sit back and say, “Well, He’s delayed in coming, so maybe He won’t.” Look again at the first reading. His coming is assured. We know it will happen, we just do not know when. Are we going to remain faithful until theday that either He calls us home or He returns? He told us that before His return it will be a time unprecedented in evil. This is not yet the time of the return of the Lord, but it is a prefiguration of it. Truly, it is a time unprecedented in evil. And if this is the case now, we can hardly imagine what it will be when the end of the world actually comes. Regardless of what will happen at the end, we have a choice to make now. It has to be a radical choice for or against Jesus. Not to play footsie with it any longer, not to say, “As long as I go to Mass on Sunday, that’s good enough, then I can live like a pagan the rest of the time,” no, that is not what the Lord wants. He condemned that in Hosea. It is not good enough to bring a sheep or a goat or an ox or whatever and offer it in sacrifice then go off and live like the pagans.
He wants love, not sacrifice. Love is something that is a virtue. It is continual. It is not for a few minutes and then that is good enough. Love is proven only when it is hard, only when we have to suffer. That is what we have the opportunity to do now. If we are truly going to be Catholic, then we have to put it into practice every moment of every day. It is love that God wants, not sacrifice. We have to make a choice, a choice to have faith in the promises of Jesus Christ, or a choice to have faith in the promises of the world, in the promises of the almighty dollar and all the materialism that follows from it. The choice is entirely ours. Those who choose the world, it will be credited to them accordingly and they will make their eternal choice. Those who choose Jesus Christ, it will be credited to them as righteousness.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.