Tuesday November 15, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (2 Maccabees 6:18-31) Gospel (St. Luke 19:1-10)
At the very end of the Gospel reading today, Our Lord tells us that He has come to seek and to save what was lost. This is something that all of us have to take part in because, as things are today, the Lord is going to work through us, through us who believe and are trying to live the Faith. We can also learn the example of what we hear in the first reading about Eleazar, this ninety-year-old man who is being forced to violate the law of God. It seems a rather minor point: “Just eat a piece of pork. That’s all you have to do. One forkful, no big deal.” Well, of course, it was a big deal because it was a violation of the law of God. That would be like saying to somebody today, “It’s not that big a deal; it’s just one mortal sin. That’s all I’m asking you to do, and we won’t put you to death. What are you going to do?”
We also see from this, by the way, the importance of those who are more advanced in years, those who, as we hear, have the merited gray hair that is theirs because of their years, because of their experience. For those who are older, they have the experience of having seen things over and over again. They can size things up more quickly and more clearly. That is precisely what Eleazar did. He said, “You know, I could save my life here if all I did was even to pretend to eat a piece of pork, but then I’m going to scandalize people and I’m not going to be able to hide it from God. Even if I save my own life for a few short years, I’m not going to be able to keep it from the Lord.” We see, then, the example of the elderly and how important that is.
We live in a society which has rejected the elderly as somehow worthless, and we suggest that they are a drain on society. But God sees things in a very different way, that the elderly are our connection with history. They are the ones with the wisdom, the experience that comes only with years. They are the ones, then, that are able to pass that wisdom on through their example and through their prayers. This is something that every person needs to learn from, as it said that Eleazar gave an example not only to the young but to the whole nation.
But for all of us, whether we are young or whether we are old, it matters not; we all have to make the same decision. Are we going to stand for the law of God, or are we going to stand for our own selves? If we are going to look out for ourselves, we are going to have to answer for it to God anyway. If we are going to seek the Will of God then we need to be firm in living it out, not only in this theoretical generic way of saying, “Oh, if I were in that situation, here’s what I would do,” but to make sure that we are preparing ourselves in case such a situation should ever arise so that we are so committed to living the life of God, to living the Catholic life, that we are not going to budge for a minute if somebody wants us to violate the law of God.
That means we have to be striving now to live a life of virtue, to be rejecting sin in our lives and seeking to uproot every bit of sin that clings to us, not giving ourselves rationalizations and excuses for why it is okay for us to leave this sin in our life: “After all, I’m doing pretty well. I just have this one and I kind of like it anyway. I know I shouldn’t do it, but…” That is nonsense. If it is a sin, it is a sin. And if it is a sin, it is selfish and it is a violation of God’s law. What would happen if somebody were to say to you, “Commit a sin or die”? Well, if we are already justifying why it is okay for us to sin, we are going to justify it once again. But if now we are not trying to justify why it is okay to sin but we are seeking to get rid of sin and to grow in holiness, if the day comes where we have to put our faith on the line, we are going to stand firm because we have chosen the Lord and in our day-to-day lives we have lived that faith.
This is why the suffering of this life is so important, the suffering that so many people try to avoid and reject. It is the only way that we are going to know whether we will be faithful, because if we can be faithful when things are difficult for us then we can have reason to believe and to be confident that we will be faithful if things become extremely difficult. But if we cannot remain faithful even in the midst of a little bit of suffering, what are we going to do if there is an immense amount of suffering? So the Lord in His mercy gives us opportunities now. If we find ourselves falling and struggling along then we need to praise God for the opportunity to grow, for the opportunity to recognize how weak we are and our necessity to rely upon Him. In this way, we realize that, first of all, the Lord has come to seek us out because we were the ones who were lost. And when we have been truly found and we are going to be faithful to Him then He will use us as the means to seek out others, through our example, through our words, through our holy lives, so that we will be faithful to the law of God and to the Will of God right to the very end. That is what He is looking for from us.
Now the question is, as we go deeper and deeper into the evil of this age: Are we willing to do it? to stand up for God in a society which does not? to be willing to be faithful when we are being told to be just like everyone else? to be different because we believe in God? Are we willing to make a stand? Are we willing to be rejected? Are we willing even to lose our life in order to save it for eternity?
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.