July 17, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I (Wisdom 12:13, 16-19) Reading II (Romans 8:26-27)
Gospel (St. Matthew 13:24-43)
In the second reading this morning, Saint Paul tells us that we do not know how to pray as we ought, and therefore the Holy Spirit prays within us in ways that we do not understand. Now in order for this to work, it implies that we ourselves have to be doing our part. We cannot just sit back and say, "Well, since I don't really know how to pray the way that I should, I'll just let the Holy Spirit do the whole thing." That is not an option. If we were to attempt something along those lines, when the end of our lives would come, we would find that we would be among those weeds that we heard about in the Gospel reading that are going to be bundled up and thrown into the fiery furnace. The Holy Spirit will indeed pray within us and He will help us to be able to live good and holy lives. He will help us to grow in holiness, but, once again, it implies that we have to be doing our part.
We cannot expect that the Holy Spirit is going to dwell within us if we are living a life of sin. We all know that if we commit a mortal sin, the Holy Trinity leaves our souls and we lose the virtue of charity. We cannot think that the Holy Spirit is going to work within us if we are in the state of mortal sin. If we are out doing sinful things, we are telling God that we do not want Him. In our minds, of course, we might be saying, "But I do want God. I do want to live my faith," but then we turn right around and we deny Him by our actions.
We have to understand, as we look around at the world in which we live, that it is a very difficult place to be able to live a good and holy life. Yet, at the same time, if we are truly committed to living a holy life, there is no better time in the world to be able to do it because the society in which we live in has gone so far astray that it does not require a whole lot to be able to discern whether something is good or whether it is not. The problem is that we have become so hardened and our consciences have become so numbed and accustomed to all of the evil things that we still do run quite a risk that something which through the centuries everyone has always known was evil we suddenly might try to justify for ourselves why it is okay. It usually sounds like this: "Well, at least it's not as bad as " That may well be true. It is not as bad as some of the things other people are doing, but that does not make it okay. That would be like looking down a list of mortal sins and saying, "Well, at least I didn't murder somebody, so what I did wasn't as bad as what I might have done." If it is a mortal sin, it is still a mortal sin. Just because it was not the worst possible mortal sin that you might have been able to commit, you have still lost grace, you have still lost the Holy Trinity, you have still lost the virtue of charity, because a mortal sin is still a mortal sin even if it is the least serious of the mortal sins. We need to be very careful that we do not try to justify ourselves by comparing ourselves with somebody else and thinking, "As long as I'm not doing the worst thing that I could possibly do, or as long as I'm not doing something which is as bad as what I see others doing, I'm justified in my own conscience." It does not work that way.
This is where we need the Holy Spirit to pray within us, not only to glorify the Father and the Son within us, but to be able to help us through the gift of the Holy Spirit, the knowledge and the understanding and the wisdom to help us to be able to discern what is right and what is wrong, to help us to be able to follow our conscience when the Holy Spirit convicts us that something is not right, to be able to follow that even though it may not be as bad as some other things that are possibilities. If we know that something is wrong, we need to reject it.
This is not always so easy, as we all know, because the difficulty for all of us is that we do not like to look strange in the eyes of other people. We do not like to be thought to be odd. Therefore, we wind up giving in on things that look relatively small by comparison, because that way at least people will not think we are completely weird. Well, what did they think about Jesus? If we take a look at what they did to Him, what they thought about Him, what they would have thought about His mother, what they thought about His earliest followers, and what they have thought about all the saints throughout the world, should we really be concerned whether worldly people think we are strange? As you look forward to eternity, the real question has to do with where you want to spend it. Do you want to spend it with Jesus and the saints? Or do you want to spend it with those who are living a worldly life now?
If we want to be like everyone else, we are going to be where they might be forever. The difference, however, is that they might not know any better, and if they do not know better perhaps they will not be held responsible. We, however, do know better. Therefore, we will not have an excuse on the Day of Judgment. The Lord made very clear in the Gospel that He is going to allow the weeds to grow with the wheat until the very end. So we cannot expect that in this world everything is going to be just great. We cannot expect that everyone is going to be trying to live a truly holy life. We even saw last week in the Gospel that when the weeds grow up they will choke off some of the wheat. What winds up happening in a society like ours is that those who are trying to live according to the ways of God are the minority the vast minority.
If we look back into ancient Israel, we recall a time, for instance, when the prophet Elijah was living. The majority of the people of Israel had decided that they would worship Baal. When God spoke to Elijah, He revealed to Elijah that there were seven thousand people in the entire country of Israel who had not bent their knee to Baal. Seven thousand out of a couple of million. Those seven thousand people would have looked like they were complete lunatics to the average person in society at that time. Yet they were the only ones who did what was right.
We need to live a principled life, and those principles come from the Holy Spirit. We can certainly trust in God's mercy, as is made very clear in the first reading from the Book of Wisdom today, that God is lenient and He is merciful because He is all-powerful. But, at the same time, we cannot simply sit back and say, "Because God is merciful, it's okay for me to do things that are wrong." God is merciful with our weakness. He knows who we are and He knows the society in which we live. He knows that we are weak and that we are prone sometimes to even the most unfortunate of sins. But as long as we are fighting to overcome them, as long as we do not want these things in our lives, then we can trust in the mercy of God. If, on the other hand, we sit back and say to ourselves, "I know these things are wrong, but just in order to fit in I'm going to do them," there is not going to be a whole lot of mercy because we have willfully and maliciously chosen to thwart the working of the Holy Spirit within our hearts. Unless we repent of these things and really strive to uproot these things from our lives, the mercy of God is not going to be extended. But if we are trying sincerely to get rid of the evil in our lives, to uproot sin and live according to the Will of God, then we can be guaranteed of the mercy of God because what He is looking for is our effort. He is looking for us to be able to make the choice to live our lives for Him.
We have this wonderful opportunity in this society that has gone so far astray and continues to go further astray with each passing day to live on the straight and narrow path. It is rough and it is narrow, Jesus told us. Yet it is the path that leads to life. So we can make a choice. We can be on that wide, easy path that leads to perdition. But it is easy and there are certainly an awful lot of people on it! If we want to be just like everyone else, we can walk the direction that everyone else is walking. Or we can go against the current. We all know that to stand and try to walk against the current is not easy. You get pushed and banged around. You get ridiculed. You might even get trampled a little bit. But as long as you know the direction you are to walk and you continue faithfully walking in that direction, then you can be guaranteed not only of the mercy of God, but you can be guaranteed that the Holy Spirit will be working in you, praying in you, to be able to obtain for you the grace to continue to walk along that straight and narrow path, to obtain for you the grace to continue to do what is right in the face of sometimes very severe opposition.
This is what we are called to do and to be as Christian people: to go against the grain, to go against the ways of the world and against the current that is pulling so many people right down into eternity in the wrong direction. The weeds and the wheat are going to grow together all the way until the end of the world. Jesus made very clear that the weeds are the evildoers and those who lead others into sin. So each one of us needs to examine our consciences and we need to ask ourselves, "Am I leading others into sin? by my words? by my example? by my actions? or even by the fact that I just sit back and encourage them to continue to do what they are doing? Or am I living a truly holy life? Am I striving to live according to God's Will?" It is not easy, but He never told us it would be.
We have been given the greatest privilege in the world. We have an opportunity to become saints. We have an opportunity to be able to grow more quickly in holiness because we have to fight against this current. We have the greatest privilege in the world to be able to serve Jesus when it is not politically correct, when it is opposed by so many. And so the question really has to do with what we want because the choice is entirely ours as to whether we want to serve the Lord in this life and be with Him forever, or whether we want to be like everyone else and be with them forever. That is the choice we have to make. The mercy of God is being offered. The Holy Spirit dwelling within us is being offered. The grace of God, like that tiny little seed, has been planted within us, and we need to make it grow. That requires our choice and our cooperation to get on that narrow path, to go against the current, and to strive to live according to the ways of the Lord in this life so that we will remain with Him for all eternity.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.