Friday November 4, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Romans 15:14-21) Gospel (St. Luke 16:1-8)
In the Gospel reading, we hear that the master commended the dishonest steward for acting prudently. Now this does not sound like something we would expect to hear from the mouth of the Lord. Why would He commend somebody for being dishonest? It is not that He is commending the person for acting dishonestly, but rather what he [the steward] is doing is looking at the situation and saying, “I’m about to be fired from my job. What am I going to be able to do to make sure that I’m taken care of?” If you advance that to the spiritual level and we look at our sinfulness and say, “You know what? I’m going to be cast into hell because of my sins. What is it that I need to do? How am I going to be received into God’s house when I die?” that is when we need to be able to sit down and say, “If I can get to Confession, I can be forgiven and I’ll be able to get into God’s house.”
In this particular instance, of course, the person is acting out of pure selfishness. With regard to Confession, even if we are there for the wrong reason (that is, for an imperfect motive because we are afraid of being cast into hell) that is still enough to be able to be forgiven in the sacrament of Confession. However, that is not really the motive that we have to be about. What we should be striving for is to be truly sorry because we have offended the Lord; not because we are afraid that we will not get into heaven, or because we are afraid that we are going to be cast into hell, but because we have offended Christ. This steward should have been repentant for what he did, but he was not. Even with that, he was commended by his master for acting prudently. Well, the prudent thing for us is even if we are not sorry for having offended the Lord, even if we are not repentant because we have offended Christ, the prudent thing is still to say, “Instead of going to hell, I’d better do something about this problem. I need to get to Confession.” But, again, we need to look at our own situation and realize that that is completely a selfish and imperfect motive, and we should be striving for something much higher. But even if at this point all we can do is muster selfishness, at least we can still be prudent enough to say, “I don’t want to go to hell.”
That is even a point we can mention to people who are away from the sacraments. Maybe it is a way of getting some people back into the Church. Play upon their selfishness, if nothing else. Hopefully, once they get their foot back in the water, they will continue to wade in deeper and it will change from being completely selfish into a true love for the Lord. But at least they need to start with something. That is the point Our Lord is trying to make for us in the Gospel reading.
But for us, we can go further. We can hear what Saint Paul had to say to the Romans. He knew of the goodness that was there, he knew of the knowledge that they had, and he was calling them to even greater things. So he says, I have spoken boldly to you. Well, so too with us. The grace of God is at work, the goodness is there within us, the ability to be able to do things is there, but the Lord is calling us to something even greater. He is calling us to union with Himself. He is calling us to true holiness. What we are being boldly asked to do is to be able to get rid of anything within ourselves that keeps us from union with Christ. We have the ability already, but the Lord wants something even greater for us.
That is the same basic idea we see in the Gospel. We can start out with selfishness, we can start out with an imperfect motive, but the Lord wants something even greater for us, not out of selfishness for Himself, to say, “Shouldn’t you be loving Me?” but rather out of true charity for us, to be able to say, “This is what is the best for you.” Remember, that is always what God wants. He wants what is best for us. Obviously, He wants us all to go to heaven, but we have to choose it. And even if it starts out as an imperfect motive and being selfish, He still wants us to go to heaven. But He wants us to be able to love Him because He knows that is what is best for us, and so He wants us to be repentant because we love the Lord, not just because we are afraid of being cast into hell. He wants something even greater. At least the repentance is there, even if it is for a selfish motive, but if we are going to do something even greater, it is to be repentant because we love God.
So we can all look within our own hearts and ask ourselves, “What is my motive for going to Confession? What is my motive for being repentant? Is there a way I can do things even better to be able to love God more perfectly so that the confessions I make will have even greater fruit in my life, not because I’m making the confession out of fear, but because I am doing so out of love?”
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.