Sunday July 15, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading I (Deuteronomy 30:20-14) Reading II (Colossians 1:15-20)
Gospel (St. Luke 10:25-37)
In the first reading today from the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses says to the people, "If only you would heed the words of the Lord, your God." Then he says to them, "When you turn back to the Lord with all your heart and with all your soulů" In other words, he is already telling the people that they are going to go astray. Even though the people have said, "We will do whatever it is the Lord says," the people disobeyed God. We know the story all too well: how many times they disobeyed the voice of the Lord, how many times they went off and did their own thing.
When they came back from exile they had found this Book of Deuteronomy, the book that had been hidden and buried in the temple. When the temple was destroyed, the destroyers did not find this particular book because they had buried it underground. The people had forgotten that it even existed. Generation after generation of the people had never heard the words of the Book of Deuteronomy. So when they found the book, they read it aloud. We find this written in the Books of Ezra and of Nehemiah about how they called all the people together and Ezra got up and read the book from the beginning of the day until midday. All the people wept as they heard the words of this book and they bowed down before the Lord. How this must have pierced their hearts when they heard those words that Moses told them: "When you return to the Lord your God to follow Him with your whole heart and soul and strength, then that you would listen and heed the words of the Lord, your God, which are written in this book."
The same must be said for each one of us. If we look at the Gospel reading today, Jesus tells us the exact same thing. The lawyer comes to Him and says, "What is the greatest commandment in the whole Law?" Jesus asks, "Well, how do you read it?" And he says, "You must love the Lord, your God, with your whole heart and your whole soul and your whole mind and your whole strength; and you must love your neighbor as yourself." That comes right out of the Book of Deuteronomy. Jesus says to him (out of all the 613 laws that are contained in the Torah, the first five books of the Bible)," The first and the greatest is to love God with your whole heart and soul and strength. And the second is like it - to love your neighbor as yourself." This man - when Jesus told him that he was correct, that he had gotten it right, that he knew the greatest commandment in all the Law - then wishes to justify himself, we are told. And he asks, "So, who is my neighbor?"
Jesus goes on to tell him the story of the Samaritan who helps the man who had been robbed, beaten, and stripped. This is something that is, again, going to pierce the people to the heart. Think about the way we might consider it today. Think of the people that you expect to be the most just and the most charitable and put their names into that story: There was a priest who was walking down the street and saw this man, there was a nun who was walking down the street and saw this man, there was a Catholic who went to Mass every day and was walking down the street and saw this man, or there was someone who prays every single day walking down the street and saw this man. All of them went to the other side of the street so they could ignore him and keep walking. Then there was a pagan, there was a fallen-away Catholic, or there was somebody who does not believe in Jesus Christ, who was walking down the street. That person saw the same man, stopped and picked him up, took care of him, and paid the innkeeper to look after him and help him. That is putting the story into our day.
The question now is not whether we know the Law or not, we know it. It has been taught to us, we have heard it in the Gospel over and over again. If anybody were to say to you on the way out of church today: "By the way, what is the greatest commandment in the Law?" I suspect every last one of us would be able to repeat it: "You shall the love the Lord your God with your whole heart and your whole mind and your whole strength. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself." It was not a question of knowledge. The lawyer knew the Law - he was a lawyer, after all. The last words in the Gospel are the ones that are the most important: "Go and do likewise." It is exactly the same thing that Moses said: "If only you would listen to the voice of the Lord, your God, and heed His words."
Jesus Christ is the Word of God. He "is the image of the invisible God" as Saint Paul tells us in the second reading today. He came into this world and He lived the Word of God. He did not just repeat it, He did not just know it - He lived it. He is the embodiment of the Word of God. In case there is any question for us at all about how we are to live it, all we need to do is look at Jesus.
That is exactly what we are told in the first reading today. It is not up in the sky so you have to say, "Who is going to take me up there so I can know it and do it?" It is not across the ocean so you have to say, "Who will take me way over there so I can know it and do it?" "It is already in your hearts and in your mouths," Moses says. If that was the case for the people 3500 years ago, how much more is that true for us today. For those of us who come forward and receive Jesus Christ in Holy Communion, we can truly say, "He is in my heart. He is in my body. He fills my soul."
Think about what Saint Paul said about Jesus Himself in the second reading: "In Him all the fullness was pleased to dwell." He is the fullness of God. He is the fullness of man. He is the Creator of all things. Everything exists for Him and through Him. Indeed, everything exists in Him. Nothing that is in creation exists outside of Him. The fullness of everything, absolutely everything, exists in Him. Indeed, the fullness of God was pleased to dwell within the human body of Jesus Christ.
If that is not phenomenal enough, the fullness of God in Jesus Christ is pleased to dwell in you and me. He comes to dwell in our hearts and our souls and in our minds and wills, He gives Himself to us. The fullness of God already dwells in us. If we are in the state of grace, the Trinity dwells within; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit already are there by their Presence of Indwelling in the soul of every single person who is in the state of grace and is incorporated into the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ. But God is not pleased just to stop there. God outdoes Himself over and over again. He gives Himself to us in the Eucharist so we can receive Him - Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity - into our hearts and our souls. The fullness of God has been pleased to dwell in us. Ponder that truth. Ponder it as you receive Holy Communion today. Every single day, ponder that truth that God loves you so much that the fullness of God comes to dwell in you. It is not up in the sky, it is not across the sea, it is not on some other world, but it is inside of you, in your hearts, in your minds, in your body, in your soul. Jesus Christ fills you to the fullness of His being and in the fullness of your being.
This is why Saint John could say, in his first letter, "You do not need anybody to teach you because the Truth is already there." The truth is not a series of propositions in your head. It does not just fill your brain. It is not something that you merely have to pull out the Catechism and read it to be able to say what the truth is. Jesus Christ is the Truth. The Truth is a person, it is not a series of propositions. Think about how beautiful it is to be a Christian person and the fullness of truth to be Catholic. The Truth is Jesus Christ and we have Him in the Blessed Sacrament. We receive Him into ourselves. It is not beyond us to be able to know the Truth. The question is not whether or not we know it. Everything that I have just told you I have told you over and over again. You know all of these things. You have heard them and you can repeat them back. The question is do we do them? Do we live the Truth that we profess?
Back a number of years ago, I was driving down the street and I saw a bumper sticker on somebody's car. It said simply: "If it were against the law to be a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?" Think about that. When you walk out of here on Sunday morning, once you are outside the parking lot so that nobody would know you had been here, does anybody know that you are a Catholic? Is your life so obviously Catholic that anybody looking at you and listening to you would know? I am not talking about trying to be obnoxious and beat things over people's heads. I am talking about whether you live your faith. You know it already; it is in your heart and it is in your mind. Do you live it, is the question.
I was reading a book by Archbishop Thuan, who was made the Archbishop of Saigon two weeks before the fall of South Vietnam. He was put into prison in solitary confinement for thirteen years by the Communists. He talked about what it meant to be Catholic in Vietnam. You had Buddhists and Communists all over the place. If you were going to be Catholic, you had to be Catholic; you had to live your faith. They knew the Scriptures upside down and inside out. They did not have books because it was against the law. They did not have a Catechism. They had to smuggle in copies of the Bible. He talked about how when he was in prison they would tear off pages of the New Testament and smuggle it in; they would hide it in the sand of the floor. They would pass them out to each one of the prisoners and they would memorize the entire page of the New Testament. After the lights went out at night, one prisoner after the next in his own cell would repeat the entire page. The next one would repeat the page that he had memorized, and the next one, and the next. All the prisoners had memorized these pages of the New Testament. They heard them and repeated them, night after night.
He talked about how he would say Mass. He convinced the Communists that he had stomach problems and he "needed a little bit of wine for his stomach" as Saint Paul told Timothy. So every night after the lights went out, he would put three drops of wine and one drop of water into his hand and he would take some of the bread (all the prisoners would take the bread that they were given every day and save a little piece of it). He would consecrate that wine in the palm of his hand and he would consecrate the bread. When they were in the re-education camp, they would take the paper that the Communists would make them write and they would tear off pieces of the paper and fold up the Eucharist in the paper. When all the Catholics from the other areas of the camp would come together at break, the prisoners would pass out the Eucharist to the other Catholics so they could receive Holy Communion. They lived their faith. But not only in prison did they live it. The Communists knew they were Catholic - that is how they were able to round them up; there was plenty of evidence to convict them. Everyone knew who the Catholics were because it was obvious: They lived the way Our Lord lived. He is the image of the invisible God. He is Truth Incarnate. He is the Way of Life for each one of us.
We can see that, living in a pagan society. Sociologists even talk about that: They call this the Post-Christian Era. We would look at it and simply say, "It is neo-pagan." It is a new paganism coming up all over the place again. It is no longer enough to be able to say, "Well, I am Catholic." "Why do you say that?" someone may ask. "Because I was baptized Catholic. I go to Mass on Sunday, I am a Catholic." That is not good enough. Jesus did not live His faith on the Sabbath and forget about it the rest of the week. It was every day and it was every moment of the day. Everyone knew what He was about. There was no question about where He stood. Even the Pharisees and Scribes who came to Him said, "We know that you are upright, you live the Law, and you do not care about what anybody else thinks." Could somebody say that about you? - That you are only interested in what God thinks and you do not care what anybody else thinks of you? - That if they do not like the fact that you are Catholic it does not matter to you? - That you are going to live your faith, regardless of anything else? You know the Law, just like the lawyer that came to Jesus today. The question is do you live it, do you do it? The truth is already near you, in your heart and in your mind - you have only to carry it out.
Note: Father Altier does not write 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.