August 28, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I (Jeremiah 20:7-9) Reading II (Romans 12:1-2)
Gospel (St. Matthew 16:21-27)
In the first reading today from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah, we hear those very famous words from the prophet: You duped me, O Lord, and I allowed myself to be duped. These are words that anyone who has taken up the spiritual life has probably repeated many times, because when we begin in the spiritual life we do not know what it is that God is going to ask. Yet, as the prophet makes very clear, if we decide that we are not going to speak God’s Name, that we are not going to do His Will, it becomes like a fire burning within our hearts and we have no choice. Thanks be to God for that! because what happens is that in order to perfect us God will allow difficult things to happen in our lives, things that we would not choose for ourselves, but things that are truly going to be the best for us. Once again, anyone who has taken up the spiritual life understands that very, very well. All of the things that occur, when we can look back over time, we recognize that what God has done for us is perfect, that it is the very best thing that could have happened. At the time, it might not seem that way at all. In fact, sometimes what happens is that people get angry at God. The get bitter and they complain and so on. Yet, at the same time, if we are willing to continue forward then we will see the good that God brings from all the things that happen in our lives.
Now if we are going to be able to do this, that is, if we are going to be able to take up the spiritual life, if we are going to be willing to strive to live according to the ways of God, we have to do exactly what Saint Paul told us in the second reading today, and that is to be transformed by a renewal of our minds. He told us that we are not to be conformed to this age. Just think, that was two thousand years ago when Saint Paul was writing and telling the people not to be conformed to the way that people in their pagan society were living. What would he say to us today?
Just to point things out, think of what is going on in our society today. We have men running around with earrings, with tattoos, with pins stuck in their noses, with their hair going in every various direction, with their pants hanging halfway down to their knees. This is what our modern world is telling us is supposed to be. The fashions for women today are nothing less than gross. It is the only word I can find to describe them. They are hanging out in every possible place where they can hang out and it is disgusting. The way they present themselves is anything but dignified. Women in our society are presenting themselves as objects to be ogled and to be used. It is a violation of their dignity. So we need to have this transformation.
To point out an interesting fact, yesterday I had a wedding. The bride was a Hindu and the groom was a Catholic. Half of the church was filled with pagan people, literally, and they were all modestly dressed in their Indian saris. The Catholics, on the other hand, were dressed in a way that I could not even look because they were dressed like modern Americans and it was most unfortunate. If you go to many of the churches today, you will find the men wearing shorts and tank tops, the women wearing skimpy little shirts and skirts, coming to the house of God in that manner.
We realize again exactly what the prophet Jeremiah was saying. If we decide that we are not going to be conformed to this age – and we cannot be, it is a quick recipe for disaster, it is a very sure way to hell; yet, at the same time, because this is what everybody is doing we think we have to do the same –listen again to what Jeremiah says: The Word of the Lord has brought me derision and ridicule all the day. That was twenty-seven hundred years ago. Do you think it is going to be any different today? If you are going to live according to the Word of God, it is going to bring you derision and ridicule. But the question is, which way do we want to go? What did Our Lord say to us in the Gospel today? What profit would a man show if he gains the whole world and loses his soul in the process? If you want to be just like everyone else, you are going to wind up being just where everyone else is going to be. Remember, at Fatima Our Lady told us that souls are falling into hell like snowflakes; it is a blizzard that is going the wrong direction. We have to make a choice to live according to what is right, and it is not necessarily a simple, easy one. It is an obvious one, but not necessarily an easy one.
We will be just like Saint Peter when we hear these words that are not necessarily easy to hear calling us to conversion, calling us to repentance, calling us to deeper union with Jesus Christ and to be conformed to the mind of God. The natural reaction is to say, “No, this can’t be. There must be a different way. How can we do that?” Is that not exactly what Peter did to Jesus today? Lord, this will never happen to You. Jesus looked at him and said, Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does but as man does. That is the dichotomy. Which way are we going to think? Are we going to think like the worldly or are we going to think like the godly? Those are the only two options. Are we going to think according to human wisdom or according to divine wisdom? We have that choice. Because we have a free will, God is not going to force us to do anything. We have to be willing to say “yes.”
We need to understand very clearly when Our Lord tells us that we are the light of the world. We are called to be in the world like yeast in the dough to transform the world, not to become like it; to call people to change their lives by the way that we live ours, not in a judgmental way, not in an arrogant way, but simply and humbly to live the faith that we profess. The example that we live is going to speak far, far louder than our words. Then we can trust that God will take care of everything else. But we have to be willing to conform ourselves to God and to His Word, and His Word is Jesus Christ, the Word Who tells us He had to be handed over to suffer, to be put to death. Is it going to be any different for us? He tells us in the Gospel reading today that if we want to be His disciples we have to take up our cross and we have to follow Him. We are going to have to suffer and be rejected.
It is then, when we are in the midst of all the trials of the passion of Christ in our own lives, that we complain and say we have been duped. But we were not duped. It was made very clear to us what we were going to have to do. We just did not understand the particulars of it. Each and every one of us is going to have to be purified in a different way. Our personalities are different; our experiences are different; all the ways that God has to work in our lives are going to be different, specifically patterned to the individual. There is not a generic way that this is going to happen, but it has to happen to all of us if we are going to be able to go to heaven.
Jesus told us – in total opposition to what the Protestants of today teach – that we will be judged according to our conduct, according to our deeds. So ask yourself now, “If Jesus came and stood before you, what do you have to offer Him?” Saint Paul says, Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice to God, your spiritual worship. Our society says, “Your body is an object for your own pleasure. Do drugs. Be impure. Look at filth.” It is all about pleasure and it is all about a violation of our own bodies and our own dignity. The deeds of the flesh lead to condemnation. We need to make sure we are living according to the ways of Christ, to recognize that our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit and that we are called to live according to the ways of righteousness, to deeds that are pure and proper and good and holy, and to shun the ways of this society. When Christians are living in a way that pagans do not even live then we know that we have given wholeheartedly into the ways of Satan. We need to ask ourselves, “What is wrong with this picture?” If we are going to say that we are followers of Jesus Christ, why are we living in a way that is far beneath even what the pagans live? And how much more are we going to be held responsible because we have the fullness of the truth? We have the Word of God; we are without excuse. There is not one of us who will be able to stand before God and say, “I did not know.” We cannot because we did know. Therefore, we are going to be held far more responsible.
So we need to choose. Do we want to choose the world? Or do we want to choose Jesus Christ? Oh, how we want to live in both! We want our pleasure and we want our TV’s and we want our ipod’s and we want all the stuff like everybody else. Then we want to say, “But I believe in Jesus.” That, my friends, is not Catholic. It is not Catholic. That is to try to live as a pagan who gives lip service to Jesus Christ, and we cannot do it. If you want to be out partying and getting drunk and dressing in a way that not even a prostitute would dress in our society then you are not a follower of Jesus Christ. If you want to be looking at pornography on the Internet, sticking holes in your body and painting up your body, you are not living as a follower of Jesus Christ.
Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice to God. Do not be conformed to this society, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind so that you will know what is good and pleasing and perfect. That is what Saint Paul is exhorting us to do. That is our dignity. And so we need to shun the ways of the world. We will be ridiculed if we do. It is okay. Jesus was ridiculed. The prophets were ridiculed. The saints have all been ridiculed. Why do we think it should be different for us? The only way we will know that we are living according to the ways of Christ is if we are being ridiculed. If we are living according to the ways of Satan, he will leave us alone. Is Satan giving you any trouble? If the answer is “yes,” you can be assured you are doing something right. If the devil is angry at you, it means you are getting him irritated. That is good. If life is easy and peaceful and there are no problems then you need to ask yourself, “Why does the devil not care about the way I’m living my life? I must not be doing anything that’s irritating him because he’s sure staying away from me.”
That is what we need to look at. If we want to live the easy life, if we want to be like everyone else, Jesus told us the way to perdition is wide and smooth and easy. If that is the way your life is, you are on the wrong path. Repent and come back to Jesus Christ, if that is what is happening. Take up the spiritual life and live according to the ways of Christ. The way of Christ is to take up your cross daily, to follow in His footsteps, to be ridiculed and rejected. It is not easy, and yet it is the most beautiful thing that we could ever ask for in the world. It is a matter of seeing beyond, just like the prophet Jeremiah had to. In the midst of the suffering, he could say, You duped me, Lord, and I allowed myself to be duped. Yet, at the same time, he recognized the beauty of what God was calling him to do. Through his suffering, he was able to understand the Will of God and he was able to be conformed to the Word of God. The exact same thing is true of each and every one of us. If we want to be able to understand God’s Will, we must be conformed to His Word, and His Word is Jesus Christ, Who came into this world for the purpose of giving His life for us. We, then, are called to the exact same thing, to be transformed by the renewal of our minds, to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice to God, to take up the spiritual life, to be united to Jesus Christ, so that we will know what is the Will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.