September 25, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I (Ezekiel 18:25-28) Reading II (Philippians 2:1-5)
Gospel (St. Matthew 21:28-32)
In the first reading today, God says through the prophet Ezekiel: You say, “The Lord’s ways are not fair!” and then He asks, Is it My ways that are unfair, or is it not your ways that are unfair? We saw last week from the same prophet that the way we think is not the way God thinks. God, Who is the very norm of justice itself, cannot do anything that is unfair. The reason, however, that we might think something is unfair is because what God does is extend mercy to those who repent. If someone has done something, we tend to think that it would be a good thing to take vengeance rather than to forgive, to get even rather than to be merciful. And so when we see God pardoning somebody who has done something to us, or even something much larger, we tend to think that His way is unfair. But it is not. God’s mercy is extended to each and every person; His grace is offered to each and every person; it is simply a question of whether or not we are going to accept it.
Now if we are going to accept God’s grace and seek to conform ourselves to His way, what is it going to look like? Saint Paul makes exceedingly clear exactly what it is going to look like in the second reading today. In his Letter to the Philippians, Saint Paul tells us that each one of us is to have the same mind and the same love – to think one thing, he says. To have the same love and the same thoughts can only be truth. He is asking that we would be united in truth, and Jesus Christ is that truth.
There are many ways that one can live the same truth. God can call one person to the single life, another to the religious life, another to the married life, and so on. It matters not what the vocation is. Even within that, we can see that people will be called to different things. Somebody might be called to teach; another person might be called to the contemplative life; someone might be called to be a missionary and another called to work in hospitals and someone to work out in the business world and so on. It does not matter what it is that God is calling you to do, the truth and the love that we have to have is the same. There is not a different truth for somebody who is in Africa as opposed to someone who is in America. Jesus Christ is the truth, and He is the same yesterday, today, and forever, as Saint Paul says to the Hebrews. He cannot change. The truth does not change and it never will.
If we want to look at things and say, “It’s about time that the Church gets with it,” what that means is we have rejected the truth because the fullness of the truth subsists in the Roman Catholic Church, as the Second Vatican Council says. That is not an arrogant statement; it is a humble statement of the truth that God founded one Church and He promised her the Holy Spirit to lead her into all truth. The Church is the Mystical Person of Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ is the truth – the way, the truth, and the life. Therefore, the fullness of the truth subsists only in the Roman Catholic Church. That does not mean no one else has any truth. There is some truth, but the only place you are going to find the fullness of the truth is in the Catholic Church. So if we are not conformed in our minds and hearts to the teaching of the Church, then we are not conformed to Jesus Christ.
There are some things that the Church teaches that are not always easy for people to accept. The Church’s teaching on things like contraception within marriage, purity outside of marriage, things regarding euthanasia, some of the biomedical practices, some of the moral areas, people balk sometimes at these teachings of the Church, yet we have to remember exactly what happened in the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel when Jesus taught about the Eucharist and how it is required that we eat His flesh and drink His blood. The people said, “This is hard, who can endure it?” Jesus simply looked at them and said, Do you want to walk away?
No one is going to require you to believe the truth. It is entirely your choice. But we know Who the truth is. And if we are going to say we believe that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father, as Saint Paul tells us that we are to do and what we will do for the rest of eternity because every knee in heaven and on the earth and under the earth will bow at the Name of Jesus, and that will be for all eternity, are we willing to begin that process now? If Satan is going to have to bend at the Name of Jesus because Jesus is the truth, because Jesus is God and God is love and therefore He is truth and He is love, then we now need to humble ourselves to realize that we are not the truth, but rather we must conform ourselves to the truth.
This is exactly why Saint Paul goes on to say that each one of us must humble ourselves and think of others as being greater than himself. We do not tend to like that. It is not the American way. Arrogance is the American way. Selfishness is the American way, but it is not the Christian way. We are to be humble. It is pretty easy on one level to do that. All we have to do is look in the mirror. One quick glance in the mirror should dispel very quickly any kind of nonsensical idea that we are somehow pretty wonderful and great. One trip to the confessional ought to take care of the same problem. The difficulty is that most of us do not like to look at ourselves with honesty. We have this immense dignity that is ours as Christian people made in the image and likeness of God and regenerated in Jesus Christ, but we have to balance that with the reality that we have violated our covenant with Christ. We have sinned.
When you read any of the saints, they all say the exact same thing: I myself am the worst of all sinners. Now, remember, some of the saints never even committed a mortal sin, yet they will be right there telling us that they are the worst sinner that has ever walked the face of the earth. Yet we, who are so far from being saints, are going to run around trying to convince ourselves and the rest of the world how great we are. All we are doing is demonstrating that we are a very long way from being saints. If we ask ourselves, “How could the saints, since they never committed a mortal sin, say that they are the worst sinner ever?” they are not necessarily saying that they have committed the worst sin possible, but what they do is look at their relationship with God and they are horrified that they could have violated God in the manner that they did. They would be the first to say, “If you look at the worst sinners,” as far as who is doing the most grievous things out there, “if those people had been given the grace that I have been given, they would be far holier than I am. And if I had been given the grace that they have been given, I would probably be doing even worse than what they are doing.”
Saint Paul then tells his Philippian converts that if they will have this same mind and same love, they will make his joy complete. This is the exact same phrase that Our Lord uses in Saint John’s Gospel, and Saint John uses the exact same words in both his first and second letter. And what is the context of Our Lord using that term? My commandment is this: that you love one another. It is by loving that we will be in the full joy of Christ, that His joy will be ours and our joy will be complete, only if we are united in truth and in love. What good does it do to call oneself a Catholic and not believe what the Church teaches? What good does it do even to call oneself generically Christian if the one commandment that Jesus Christ has given us we refuse to follow?
My commandment to you is this: that you love one another. How many people do we hold grudges against? How many people are we angry at? How many people do we treat poorly? How arrogant are we? How much do we think of ourselves? These things all violate love. Every time that we sin we violate love. If we sin against another person, if we use another person, if we encourage another person to do something sinful, we are not united in love and truth. We may be united with someone in sin, but then we are separate from Christ.
We see the same mystery, then, that Jesus speaks of in the Gospel reading. Are we among the ones who say, “No, I will not serve,” and turn around and say, “I’m sorry – I’ll go”? Or are we the ones who are going to say, “Oh, yes, I’ll go out there,” and then we go off and do our own thing? Jesus points out to the chief priests and the elders and the people that they are the ones who have said, “I will go,” and then they do not. He said, The tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of heaven before you because they believed and they turned around at the preaching of John the Baptist. When you saw this, you did not even change your mind – even after seeing the tax collectors and prostitutes having a conversion. What about us? How many of us are willing to say, “Oh, yes, I’ll go,” and then look at our lives; our lives are in complete contradiction sometimes to our words. In that case, we are like those chief priests and elders. Oh, we can talk a good talk and we can spew all the religious truth, but we either do not believe it or we do not live it. And it is not that the Jewish people did not believe the truth; they just did not live it. How often do we justify ourselves in refusing to live the truth? because we need to be like everyone else? because “If I live the truth, people are going to think I’m weird”? because “If I live the truth I’m going to have to change my life”? We are pharisaical because we know what the truth is but we refuse to live it. We will beat other people over the head with it, but we will not live it ourselves. There is no humility and there is no charity.
On the other hand, if we will recognize ourselves to be the worst sinner on the face of the earth, then we will humble ourselves. Then we will be like the tax collectors and prostitutes who recognize that they have nothing to boast of because of their sinfulness. All they can do is rejoice in the mercy of God that has been extended to them, and they do not think themselves to be worthy. What did we hear last week in the Gospel? That Jesus came not to call the self-righteous but the sinners. If we do not acknowledge ourselves to be sinful individuals, we have no part in Christ. Now I know that every one of us will say, “Of course I’m a sinner,” but how many of us will actually look honestly at ourselves and say, “I am the worst. I am the worst sinner in the world”? That does not mean you are doing the worst things possible, as I mentioned earlier; it just means that in relationship to Jesus Christ you recognize the grace He has given you and you recognize your own disobedience to that grace. Therefore, each and every one of us can say, “Of all the sinners on the face of the earth, I myself am the worst.”
Remember, that is why God chose you: because you are the worst, because you are the least, because you are the most helpless. The ones He chose are the ones who will admit that they cannot do things themselves. We still think that we can, so we still need a little work. We have to be able to acknowledge the truth that we are weak, that we are the worst sinners. The ones who think they can do it themselves, God allows them to try. We need to pray for them that they will have conversions, but in the meantime we need to work on our own selves – not to be looking at the speck in our brother’s eye but noticing the plank in our own.
We need to strive to be conformed to Jesus Christ. That is exactly what Saint Paul told the Romans: Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by a renewal of your mind. The renewal of your mind is to be renewed in truth, to accept the truth and to live the truth. And a renewal of the heart is to love. Who is Jesus? He is God and God is love; He is the way, the truth, and the life. So He is truth and He is love. Therefore, if you want to possess within yourselves the joy of Jesus Christ, and you want that joy to be complete, there is only one way. That is to be of one mind and one heart, to have one truth and one love. That one truth is Jesus Christ, the fullness of Whom can be found only in the Catholic Church, so it is to conform ourselves to the teaching of the Church. And that one love is Jesus Christ. He is found in His fullness in the Blessed Sacrament. It is to unite ourselves with Him there, to be conformed to Jesus Christ, to live His commandment of love, so that His joy will be in us and our joy will be complete.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.