Friday July 27, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Exodus 20:1-17) Gospel (St. Matthew 13:18-23)
In the first reading today, we hear the giving of the Ten Commandments. I always like to make the point, to remind ourselves, that these are not "ten suggestions" - they are Ten Commandments. And they are not an option. But, unfortunately, people seem to have assumed that they are optional these days.
Let us look at the first three commandments, which deal with God Himself. The vast majority of people who are not Catholic have totally misunderstood the First Commandment, which says: "I am the Lord, your God, and you shall have no false gods before Me." The Lord goes on to talk about how you shall not make an idol in the shape of anything in heaven, on earth, or in the sea in order to bow down and worship it. So, they look at Catholics and say, "See, you guys make statues and that is forbidden by God." All you have to do is open the Scripture and say, "It is God who commanded that the cherubim would be made to place upon the mercy seat. It is God who commanded Moses to make the snake and place it on the pole for the people to look at." What is forbidden is to worship false gods, to worship a statue. If anyone prays to a statue thinking that the statue is going answer your prayer, you are violating the First Commandment. That is not what we do. There is a misunderstanding among many Christians about the First Commandment.
Then, there is a total disregard among many Christian people about the Second and Third Commandments. Using the Lord's name in vain has become commonplace. I challenge you to find a modern movie that does not have the Lord's name used in vain, and probably many times in the movie. Listen to people who go to Mass; listen to the filth that comes out of their mouth and the way they use the Lord's name over and over again; it pops out of their mouth without any thought and, sometimes, in the most vile manner. The Lord says He will not leave unpunished the man who uses His name in vain. This is something we need to work on. This is why the saints began the Holy Name Society: because of the fact that people use the Lord's name in vain so regularly.
Then look at the Third Commandment, which is the one that is so grievously violated in America, that is, the violation of the Sabbath. Working on Sunday, shopping on Sunday, doing all kinds of things on Sunday that are not supposed to be done. Sunday is a day of recreation; it is a day of prayer; it is a day of study of the faith. But instead, it has become just another day because we do not have enough time in our week in the first six days to get everything done. Now, we seem to think it is no big problem: "As long as the stores are open on Sunday, that means we can go. As long as the businesses are open, that means we can work. As long as I have an opportunity to catch up on things, then I am going to take it."
That is forbidden by God. Any unnecessary servile work is forbidden and we need to understand that. God has created us in such a way that we need to have some recreation time and we need to have time to focus on Him. That is what the Third Commandment is all about. So, we need to follow it.
Otherwise, we are like the people the Lord spoke of in the Gospel. Those of us who go to Mass, try to pray, and try to do what is right, and yet continue to violate these commandments are like the one the Lord speaks of: "The seed that is sown among briars is the man who hears the message, but then when worldly anxiety and the lure of money choke it off, it bears no yield." It grows; it is there; it is not like the first two that just pop up and go away; but rather, it just gets choked off and it does not live to the fullness. That is the way many Catholic people are. We are giving lip service to God. The Faith is alive in our heart, but it is not bearing the fruit it is supposed to because we are ignoring the commandments of God. "The greatest of all the commandments," Jesus says, "is to love the Lord, your God, with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength." Not just part of it - all of it. So, if we are willing to ignore the first three commandments, which deal with God Himself, then we cannot bear fruit because we are ignoring what is most important in the commandments.
We need to put God first. We need to take His word seriously and we need to live it. Again, these are not just some suggestions for better living: "This would be a nice way to be able to try and order your life." No, that is not what God gave us. He gave us Ten Commandments - absolute, unbreakable, unswerving commandments - so that we know how to order our lives.
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.