Wednesday March 21, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Third Week in Lent
Reading (Deuteronomy 4:1, 5-9) Gospel (St. Matthew 5:17-19)
The following homily was given to the second and third grade students of Saint Agnes Grade School.
In the first reading today, we hear Moses talking to the people of Israel. He tells them that he is going to teach them all of the commandments, statutes, and laws that God has given to the people. We too have to learn all those because Jesus told us in the Gospel reading today that not even the smallest part of the letter is going to pass away. You know that in spelling class and writing class your teacher requires you to put a little dot above the Ďií, doesnít she? You have to cross the Ďtí, and put in periods and commas. If you donít, then she marks it wrong, doesnít she? Is that because your teacher is mean? No, it is because she wants you to make sure you spell the words right. What Jesus is telling us (if He put it into English) is: "Not even the little dot above the Ďií in any of the laws of God is going to pass away until the whole law is fulfilled.
We need to learn the laws of God. That is why, in school, we have to learn the Ten Commandments. Now there is a lot that goes into those Ten Commandments other than what is obvious, so we have to learn all of the law, everything that it requires. What happens is that sometimes kids (and adults too!) think it is sort of fun to break the law. For instance, I bet your mom and dad taught you that you cannot use bad words, didnít they? Sometimes kids think itís kind of cool if they use bad words. What is worse is they teach one another how to do it. They say, "Iíll teach you some bad words. This will be cool. We can call some other kids some names and we can sound tough. We can sound cool if we use these bad words." Then they start using some unfortunate words. Exactly what your mom and dad taught you not to do. But for some reason, we think it is better to do what is wrong. That is exactly what Jesus says, "Whoever teaches somebody else to break these laws is going to be the least in the kingdom."
But then He tells us that whoever fulfills them and teaches others to do them is going to be great in the kingdom. If you just think about being at home again, I bet if you follow all the rules that your mom and dad ask you to do, they will reward you, wonít they? If you break the rules, then what happens? You get into a little trouble donít you? If your mom has some chores for you to do and you decide you donít feel like doing them, do you think she is going to be real happy because you did not do what you were supposed to do? If she asks you to clean your room and you go out to play instead, will she be happy with you? No. And if you teach your little brothers and sisters to be disobedient, do you think your mom is going to be happy with you then? No. But if you are a good example to your brothers and sisters, then she is going to be happy with you, isnít she? Because that is whatís expected and that is exactly what the Lord expects of us. He expects that we are going to do what He asks us to do, we are going to be a good example to others, and weíre going to teach them what weíre supposed to do because God wants us to be holy. He wants all of you to be saints. Imagine that - to be a saint. That is exactly what God wants from you because that is why you are baptized: So that you can be a saint.
That is exactly what Moses said to the people. He said, "What great nation is there on the whole face of the earth that has God so close to it as the Lord our God is to us whenever we call upon Him?" How close is God to you right now? He lives inside of you, if you are in the state of grace. That means you have confessed any mortal sin you know you have committed. Second graders, you are getting ready to go to confession, which is a beautiful sacrament, so all of your sins can be forgiven. On the day you were baptized, Original Sin was removed from your soul and Godís sanctifying grace which is Godís own life was put inside of you. And God has to be where His life is. If Godís life is in your soul, God dwells in your soul.
You can think, for instance, of the ancient world and the civilizations that had little, false gods. They would bow down before statues and worship them. God condemned that and said statues are not gods. You can look at that statue of Jesus. Is that actually Jesus? No, that is a piece of wood, isnít it? Can you pray to that statue? Do you think that statue will answer your prayers? No, that statue cannot answer your prayers. That statue is made to look like Jesus, to remind us of Jesus, so when we look at that statue we can think of Jesus but we do not actually pray to that statue. Well, in some ancient worlds, even now in America, there are some people who are praying to statues. They think statues can answer their prayers. Statues cannot answer your prayers, they are not God. They are made out wood or metal like a good luck charm.
If you have a good luck charm like a rabbitís foot or a lucky penny .. can a dead rabbitís foot do anything for you that is good? No, nor can a lucky coin or a good luck charm, anything that we would look to for good luck. That is all bad. It actually violates the First Commandment because only God can answer all of that. Say you had a lucky coin or a rabbitís foot, if you put that in your pocket and you thought that was going to do something for you it would be an offense against God. That good luck charm is right next to your body isnít it? Itís right there in your pocket but God is inside of you; Heís in your heart; Heís in your soul. Heís way closer than that good luck charm could be. If you have any good luck charms, throw them away because that stuff is junk. That is not real and we donít want to violate God. You see thatís one of those places where Moses says that we need to follow the statutes and the ordinances of God.
We need to do what is right. For instance, I know kids like Pokemon cards. Those are not of God and they should be in the garbage. We should throw those things away. Are monsters good? How many think monsters are good? Nobody. That is what I thought. Monsters are bad, arenít they? Do you know what the word Pokemon means? It means pocket monster. Now you just said monsters are bad, didnít you? Yet, we think Pokemon cards are good. No, they are not. You see the devil is pretty smart, isnít he? He says, "Hey! This will be fun! This will look good!" So he makes monsters look like cartoon characters. And he says, "These guys are cool! These are fun!" They are not. But that is the same thing we do when we teach our little brothers and sisters how to use bad words or when we teach them how to disobey. God gave us His law and the devil doesnít like us, so he says, "You donít have to do what God wants. You can play with bad things. You can do things that are offensive to God. Itís not a real bad sin, so itís okay." Jesus said, "No. Whoever breaks even the least of the Commandments and teaches others to do so is going to be least in the Kingdom of Heaven."
So even in those smaller areas we need to make sure we are trying to do what God wants. That is not always easy, but itís the very best. Itís the same reason why your mom makes you do chores, clean your room, take a bath, help with setting the table, and all that kind of stuff because she knows it is whatís best for you. Itís the same reason your teacher makes sure you put a dot above the Ďií and she makes you cross your Ďtí because she knows that is whatís best. Itís not because she doesnít like you, but because she knows itís the best. God gave us these laws because He knows it is best for us. Itís not because He doesnít like us, instead itís because He loves us. God wants only the best, so He knows that if we do what He asks us to do, we will be saints. That is what we need to focus on today and every day: Doing whatís right, following the law of God and trying to fulfill it because God lives in us. He wants us to be saints and Heíll do everything He can to help us be saints and be holy so that we can go to Heaven. If we want to do that, we need to try to do what is right, follow the law of God, be a good example to others, and teach them to do what is right as well.
Note: Father Altier does not prepare his homilies in advance, but relies solely upon the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.