Friday August 19, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Ruth 1:1, 3-6, 14b-16, 22) Gospel (St. Matthew 22:34-40)
As Our Lord tells us in the Gospel that the greatest of all the commandments is to love the Lord with our whole heart and soul and strength, again, we have to ask ourselves: Just exactly what does that mean? How do we do this?
It means, first of all, that we have to have a relationship with Him. You cannot love somebody with whom you do not have a relationship because love is a reciprocal relationship. You can think about some movie star or some musician that you really like, and you can say, “Oh, I just love this person so much!” You can enjoy their work, but you really cannot love the person if you do not know the person. You can know about the person. Maybe you have researched your movie star and you think this is a great person, but you still cannot truly love the person unless you have a relationship with the individual. So it is not about knowing merely some facts about the person, but it is about knowing the person. We cannot love what we do not know. Consequently, we have to come to know God – not just know about Him but to know Him as a person. Therefore, we need to be in a relationship with Him. So, first and foremost, it means spending time with Him in prayer.
Then it means exactly what we hear about in the first reading, except we hear that on the human level. We hear Ruth telling her mother-in-law Naomi, I will go wherever you go, wherever you lodge I will lodge, your people will be my people. That is exactly what we have to do with God. Our Lord Himself told us that. When the man came to Him and said, “I’ll follow you wherever you go,” He said, The birds of the air have nests and the foxes have lairs, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head. Are we willing to do that, to follow Him wherever it is that He tells us to go, wherever He leads? If you love someone completely, you will go with them wherever they go regardless of what kind of inconvenience it might cause. All you need to do is look at a marriage situation. If your spouse were to get a job someplace, would you say: “Well, have fun. Go ahead. I’ll stay right here”? No. You would say: “We’ll sell the house, we’ll pack up the kids, we’re going to move. I go where you go.” That is what we have to be willing to do with God.
Obviously, we could say, “God is everywhere,
so I don’t have to go anywhere.” Well, if God says, “You go,” then you go. That
is what it is going to require. Are we really putting God first? Most of us
give a lot of lip service to God, but the real question is: Do we love Him? and
how much do we love Him? I oftentimes point out to the kids in school that the
one you love the most is probably the one with whom you spend the most time. Do
we love the TV more than we love God? How much time do we spend in front of the
Blessed Sacrament? How much time do we spend in front of the TV set? It kind of
tells us where our priorities are when we look at things that way. We can ask
ourselves just very bluntly and seriously in prayer: How much do I really love
God? Do I love Him more than anything else in the world?
Would I be willing to give up anything and everything for God? If the answer to that is “no” then we are not loving God first and foremost with our whole heart and soul and strength.
That is something exceedingly difficult, that we would be willing to give up spouse, that we would be willing to give up children. If God were to call them home, would you be angry and bitter and call God names and kick and scream and be terribly upset? You are certainly going to grieve. But are we willing to put God first? This is a very, very difficult thing that the Lord is asking. Yet we can honestly look at it and say, “If God only wants the best then if I truly love Him He is going to provide what is the best, not only for me but for those whom I love in this world.” And so we have to trust Him. We have to enter more and more deeply into union with Him, and that requires that we have to be vulnerable, which none of us likes to do. It requires that we have to trust when we cannot see Him, we cannot hear Him, we cannot feel Him, we cannot pick up the phone and call Him and hear His voice. Trusting is very, very difficult, once again.
God is asking something of us that is not easy, but we do have to understand that this is going to be the fulfillment of our entire lives because it is the purpose for which we were created. All that Jesus is telling us here is what we were created to do. But if you ever wonder how badly sin has messed us up, you have it right here. God had to become one of us and command us – Imagine that! He had to command us – to do the very thing He created us to do. That is a pretty sad reality. And even with that commandment that has been right there in front of us for two thousand years, most of us still do not and cannot do it. That is how badly sin has affected us.
So we realize that what sounds like this real nice idea – and all of us I am sure would sit back and say, “Yeah, that’s what I’d like to do, to love God with my whole heart and soul and strength” – the reality is most of us really do not will it. It sounds like a nice concept; the reality is a different matter. Most of us really do not want it because most of us love ourselves with our whole heart and soul and strength, and we do not love God and we do not love our neighbor unless there is something in it for ourselves. That is the opposite of love. Love is selfless. Most of us are selfish. We need to overcome self, and that requires an awful lot. To die to self in order to live for another is a very painful and difficult thing. That is why most of us are unwilling to even make very many steps in the direction of loving God with our whole heart and soul and strength.
That is what we really need to look at and wrestle with in prayer because not only is it the commandment that we as Christian people are given (imagine when we stand before God and He says, “Here is My commandment, how did you do?” How are we going to answer? What are we going to be able to say?), but even without it being a commandment, it is what is at the very heart of our being because it is the very purpose for which we were created. So the other half of that is: Do we want to fulfill the purpose of our existence? Do we want to know the fulfillment in our lives that can only come from doing what we were created to do?
All Our Lord is doing here is coming down and loving us and telling us that if we want true happiness and true fulfillment that this is how we are going to achieve it. It is the purpose of our creation. It is the only means to our fulfillment. It is to love – and not to love yourself! – first and foremost, to love God with your whole heart and soul and strength; and secondly, to love your neighbor, to love those around you –and that flows from your love for God – so, above all else, that God is the top priority, and to love Him with our whole being.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.