Sunday July 22, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I (Genesis 18:1-10a) Reading II ( Colossians 1:24-28)
Gospel (St. Luke 10:38-42)
In the second reading today, we have an utterly astounding statement by Saint Paul: “I make up in my body for what is lacking in the suffering of Christ, for the sake of His body the Church.” Have you ever pondered that statement to ask what was really lacking in the suffering of Christ? How is it that Saint Paul can talk about making up for what Jesus did not do? But that is precisely what he is saying: There was something that was lacking in the suffering of Christ and Saint Paul, through his suffering, is adding to the suffering of Christ and making up for what is lacking.
First, we have to look at the point of what was lacking. The answer is that in the suffering of Christ there is nothing lacking. But Jesus, knowing that He was going to continue living on in His mystical body and recognizing the dignity of those who would be incorporated into Him as members of that body, allows us to actually share in the work of redemption. It is mind-boggling for most of us to think that God loves us so much that He would allow us to share in the work of the salvation of souls. But that is precisely what He is doing. Jesus, in His passion and in His death, took on everything that was necessary for the salvation of humanity; but out of love for us, there was a little bit that He did not do Himself because He knew that we would. Rather than just simply handing salvation to us on a silver platter and saying, “Here it is and you do not have to do anything,” what He does is hand it to us and say, “Here it is. Now, what has been given to you as a gift, also give to others as a gift.”
He allows us to share in His work as He allows us to share in His life, in His very person. If we are members of the Mystical Body of Christ, we literally share the life of Jesus Christ. Remember what Saint Paul said: “It is no longer I who live, it is Christ who lives in me.” He talks about how he shares in the suffering of the Lord and that his only boast is in the Cross of Christ, and in Jesus Christ crucified. It is in these sorts of things that we can begin to understand why he can talk about sharing in the very suffering of Christ.
As Catholics, from the time we are little kids, we heard the statement: Offer it up. Whenever there was something that was not going so well, our moms probably taught us to offer it up. What exactly does that mean – to “offer it up”? This is something so important for us to understand because even the majority of Catholics do not understand it anymore and, tragically, do not do it. How many souls are being lost because of the lack of generosity of the people who are not offering their suffering in union with the suffering of Christ? This is what we must understand because it is precisely what Saint Paul is talking about in that second reading. To say “offer it up” means that the Lord is offering you His Cross - a share in His suffering, a share in the work of redemption. What He wants you to do is to take that suffering and accept it, which means: do not whine about it, do not complain about it, do not try and seek any kind of attention because of it.
That is what got Martha in trouble in the Gospel reading today; it was not because she was serving, but it was because she was complaining about it. The Lord said, “Mary chose the better part and it will not be taken from her; only one thing is necessary.” And what is that one thing? It is to learn from the Master. If Martha had learned from the Master that to serve was to find freedom, to serve was to reign, to serve was to share in the work of Jesus Christ, then she would have done great things. And indeed she did, because Martha is a saint. It was not because she was serving that Jesus would say, “See Mary just sitting here doing nothing? She chose the better part.” That is not what He said at all, but what He said is: “Martha, stop complaining and just accept. Do the work silently and offer it up.” Then it is meritorious; then it will bring about salvation; then it is a share in the very work of the salvation of souls that Jesus came into this world to accomplish.
For us, we need to see the same thing. If we look at the first reading, for instance, we see that same point of serving. Here is Abraham and he sees the three angels walking by, which is a very important passage because it is a prefiguration of the Trinity. It is the Lord who is walking by and He is three Persons as He walks by the tent of Abraham. Abraham, true to the Middle Eastern sense of hospitality, shouts to the three angels, “Do not pass me by!” So he slaughters a bull, has Sarah make some bread, and gets some milk and curds so that he can place it before these three men to serve them. As the fruit of that service, we see that the promise is made that Sarah will bear a son.
Again, we see that it is not the service that God is condemning. In fact, it cannot be the service because Jesus said this about Himself: “I came to serve, not to be served.” To serve is to share in the work of Christ. It is merely a matter of how we do it. If we are serving and looking for attention, then that is not a share in the suffering of Christ and in His work. If we are serving and trying to make sure people see us, that they are impressed by us, and that they recognize what it is that we are doing, then we are doing our own work and not the work of Christ. If we complain about the work and the service, which are ours, then we are not sharing in the suffering of Christ; but we are rejecting His suffering and rejecting the gift He is offering.
We need to simply step back and ask ourselves, “Of all the things that Jesus Christ could give to us, what is the greatest gift?” Many of us would think that the greatest gift would be lots of money. Or the greatest gift would be if He gave me the spouse of my dreams. Or the greatest gift would be if He gave me a mansion, a fancy car, and an easy life. That is nonsense. You can turn on the television set on Sunday morning and hear the “gospel of health and wealth” being preached and it is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Nowhere in the Gospel will you find Jesus saying to you, “If you follow Me, everything is going to be easy. You do not have to take up your cross daily and follow Me,” because that is not what it means to be a Christian. Nowhere will you find any nonsense like that - just the opposite. Jesus said things like: “ If they hate you it is because they hated Me first. You must take up your cross and follow Me. Blessed are you when they persecute you and slander you and utter every kind of thing against you.” On and on, we could quote one passage after the next of what He told us would happen to us. We must share in the suffering of Jesus Christ.
So, the greatest gift, the single greatest gift that Jesus Christ can offer us is a share in His cross. As I have said many times before, If you are not suffering, then you need to worry. Many of us fall into the trap of thinking, “If things are going well, then God must really love me. If things are not going well, then I must have done something wrong. God must be angry with me because things are not going well in my life.” Once again, you can turn on the television set on Sunday morning and you can hear lots of televangelists who are looking for money, telling you that exact same thing: “Oh, Jesus does not want you to suffer. He wants your life to be easy. He wants everything to be wonderful. If you serve Jesus, you are going to be on ‘easy street’ and you are going to have lots of money and you will not have to suffer.” That is not what Jesus Christ teaches. It is not what His Church teaches. And it is not what His saints teach.
If we want to share in the life and the Person of Jesus Christ, we have to share in His passion, in His suffering, and in His death. That is the greatest possible gift that we can be offered: a share in the Cross of Jesus Christ. In His love for us, Jesus left a share for us. He did the vast majority of it; probably 99.9% He took for Himself because He knew that we were capable of only one little, tiny sliver. So, that is what He gives to us. And how often we have experienced that, when He lays that little sliver on our shoulder, we fall flat on our face. One little, tiny bit of the suffering of Christ and we complain. We struggle, we get angry and frustrated, and we wonder why. But we can take heart because, when we look at the Stations of the Cross, we see Our Lord falling three times under His Cross. It should be no surprise to us that we will fall under ours sometimes. But it is precisely in getting back up and continuing to struggle that we will become saints, that we will grow in holiness, that we will learn the wisdom of the Cross.
Saint Paul tells us that the cross is foolishness for the Greeks and it is a stumbling block for the Jews, but for those who believe in Christ, it is the wisdom and the power of Jesus Christ. It is the only means of salvation. So for us who believe in Jesus Christ, we should not reject the Cross, but we should embrace it. The saints prayed for the Cross. They prayed for suffering and they rejoiced in suffering because they knew it meant that other souls would be saved and that they were sharing in the very work of salvation. This is the glory that Saint Paul is talking about: He is offering his suffering for the good of the Church.
Then he talks about the mystery that the Gentiles are now co-heirs with the Jews and that all of us have an opportunity to go to Heaven. It is not by our own doing, we cannot save ourselves. If we suffered tremendously from this moment until the end of our lives, it would not be enough to bring about our own salvation. We must be clear about that. The suffering we endure is not so we can save our own soul – the Lord did that; He has already suffered enough to save all the souls in the entire world. But what He asks from us is generosity, that we will accept a share in His Cross, that with Him we would serve the needs of others.
All you have to do is look around to see the need. It is desperate. As Our Lord said in the Gospel, when He saw all the people lying prostrate from exhaustion, that they were like sheep without a shepherd. He could have stood in the middle of America in the 21st century and said the exact same thing. The people of our day do not know their Shepherd. They do not know the salvation that is being offered to them. They have sought everything, except the Lord, because they do not want to suffer. Suffering and the American Way do not seem to go together, so most people reject it. Now, they are lying exhausted like sheep without a shepherd. It is only through our suffering and our share in the work of Christ to serve the needs of others and bring them to Jesus Christ that we can help them to know that He has done the work for them, that He has suffered for them, and that He has brought about their salvation.
That is the mystery that Saint Paul talks about. He says that it is Jesus Christ in you, your hope of glory. That is what is ours. For us who know that mystery, for us who worship Him, for us who recognize what He did for us - now He is asking us to do the same: to take up the Cross and to offer our sufferings for others so that they will come to know Him and their souls will be saved. This is the dignity that is ours as members of Jesus Christ. It is the dignity for each one of us to be able to offer our suffering, in union with the suffering of the Lord, so that we can say with Saint Paul: “I make up in my body for what is lacking in the suffering of Christ, for the sake of His body the Church.”
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 with minimal editing.