Friday August 3, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Leviticus 23:1, 4-11, 15-16, 27, 34b-37)
Gospel (St. Matthew 13:54-58)
As we look at the first reading from the Book of Leviticus, we see that the way God worked things out for the Jewish people was that at all of the important times of the year (because they were an agrarian people) they would have to come before the Lord. They would all have to go to the temple of the Lord and offer sacrifices and holocausts and oblations. There were sacred assemblies that the people had to have. They would offer the first fruits of their fields to the Lord and they would have different offerings depending upon what the season happened to be. Everything was to help them to realize that the Lord was the center of their lives.
When the crops began coming up, it would be a very easy thing to be greedy and to say, "I want the first for myself." But the Lord said, "No. You will offer the first fruits to Me." When different events in the course of the year would come up, once again, they would come to the Lord. First of all, to be reminded that it was the Lord who brought them out of Egypt they had the Passover, which was the most important of the feasts for the Jewish people. And then you had the seven days of unleavened bread, you had the Feast of the Booths (or Tabernacles as it would be called), and so on - always to remind themselves that the Lord was at the center of everything: at the center of history, at the center of their lives, at the center of who they are as a people sacred to the Lord.
The same thing needs to take place with us. The difference is that, for the Jewish people, time was seen in a cyclical manner. You can understand it when you look at these kinds of readings. For us, time tends to be seen in a linear manner. It is a little more difficult, even though the feasts of the Church do fall cyclically and we repeat the same feasts year after year and remind ourselves of salvation history, to make sure that we see the Lord as the center of our lives. It is much easier for us to forget that than it was for the Jewish people because of the way they understood time and the way they understood the Lord, present in their midst.
But for us, when we think about the Lord present among us, it is far, far more intimate even than what the Jewish people understood. They knew that the Lord was present with them, we know that the Lord is present within us. Not just with us, not just among us - but within us. He is present within. The way He desires it to be is that we would be the place, that the heart would be the place, where sacrifices and holocausts and oblations would be offered and that He truly would be the center of our lives. Not that we have to go to a particular place to offer things to the Lord, we simply need to go inside to offer everything to the Lord. That is the kind of life that we are to live.
Even though we now see time in a more linear fashion, it does not matter because the Lord is there always. Twenty-four hours a day, as long as we are in the state of grace, He dwells within our hearts and our souls. He simply desires that we would go inside and be with Him. Rather than one day of the year for a Day of Atonement, every night should be a time of atonement. We should examine our consciences and we should make an act of contrition. Rather than a couple of times a year holding a sacred assembly, we do that at least every week where we come together to be able to offer sacrifice to the Lord because it is not any longer having to make a long pilgrimage; rather, the churches are nearby. Things have changed in the way that the Lord desires us to worship Him; it is a much more intimate form.
When we look at the Gospel reading, we wonder and say, "Well, isn't this the carpenter's son? Isn't he known to be the son of Mary? Arenít his brothers our neighbors, and his sisters our neighbors? Where did he get all this?" We just simply need to look inside and say, "Isnít this the One who dwells within me? Isnít this the all-powerful God who loves me so much that He has come to me?" It is not a question of "Who is He?" It is a question of "Who am I, that the Lord would come to me? That the Lord would love me so much that He would do these things for me?" And then we ask: "What is my response?"
So we see all these festivals of the Jewish people. We recognize that our life simply needs to be a sacred festival that is holy to the Lord. Our entire person, our entire being, everything about us is to be sacred to the Lord. We are to offer ourselves in sacrifice to Him, in union with His sacrifice. We see the beauty of what God has done for the Jewish people, and what He has done with Jesus Christ is to perfect that, to raise it to a new level. We are the ones who are the inheritors of this gift and we ourselves are sacred to the Lord, our God.
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.