Saturday August 4, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Leviticus 25:1, 8-17) Gospel (St. Matthew 14:1-12)
At the end of the first reading today the Lord says, "Do not deal unfairly, but stand in fear of the Lord, your God." That is what we need to think about. When we look at the Gospel reading today, for instance, we see something that was completely unjust: the beheading of an innocent man for no purpose whatever; it was simply because the king had decided, in a moment of lust, to swear an oath that he would give to this girl anything that she asked. And when she asked for something that was completely unjust, he decides that his oath, at that point, was more important than doing something that was completely wrong.
I think all of us, if we are honest with ourselves, would have to admit that we have fallen into the same problem. It is called "an attachment to human affection." That is, we get concerned about what other people think of us. We want to fit in; we want to be like other people; we want to do things that will please them - even when we know that they are incorrect.
Tragically, we are sometimes even willing to do things that are completely wrong, things that go against our conscience, things that we know are not just or right; but we do them anyway just so we will be thought well of by someone else or so we can impress them or so we can fit in with them, whatever the case may be.
Consider those words of God that He told to the Jewish people: "You must live in fear of the Lord, your God." - Not in quaking fear that God is going to zap you down or something like that. That is not the fear He is talking about; but rather, to live in the fear of offending God. When the Lord tells us we are also to love our neighbor, we should have that same kind of reverence for one another, that we do not want to offend one another.
Now, not to offend somebody does not mean to give them what they want if they are asking for something that is unjust or unreasonable. To offend them is to do something that is wrong, even if it is what they want. To sin with someone - because they want to sin with you - is not something that is okay. That offends the person even if it is what they wanted. We need to reject that outright. So anything that is unjust, anything that is selfish, anything that is dishonest needs to go; it violates everything the Christian life is about. Our Lord makes very clear to us, over and over again in the Gospel, that it is about seeking what is right, seeking the truth, seeking what is just and beautiful. That is what our lives are to be about. That is what God created us for.
We live in a society that tells us to look out for "Number One": to make sure that we are taken care of, to make sure all that matters is that "I have got my ease and my comforts and my pleasure and it does not matter what it costs to anybody else." And it does not seem to matter if there are other people who are downtrodden and lowly, as long as "I am taken care of." That violates the principles of the Gospel. That is what we need to consider.
We see the injustice that was done to Saint John the Baptist today. Maybe we have not been out beheading anybody or swearing false oaths in a moment of heated passion, but how many times have we lied? How many times have we gone against our own conscience? How many times have we done unjust or dishonest things because we wanted to be liked or we wanted to fit in? It does not have to be nearly as extreme.
When we see the extreme, the passion for justice wells up within us; but if we have deadened our conscience, sometimes that same passion for justice does not rise when we see smaller injustices. We find ways of justifying ourselves and others. We cannot be doing that. If we are going to be upset when we see a great injustice, we also need to be upset when we see a smaller injustice because Our Lord has told us that if we are unfaithful in small things, we will be unfaithful in the larger as well. So if we do not see ourselves getting upset over small injustices and we allow it to continue, we will numb our consciences to the point where we will not be upset over large injustices.
All you need to do is look at our country: We are killing babies, and people do not care. We are doing stem cell research and killing embryos, and people do not seem to care. We are monkeying around with human beings now and trying to clone a human being. There are many people who are applauding it and saying, "Isn't this wonderful!" Fifty years ago, people would have been outraged. But there have been so many injustices against other human persons over the years that we have become numb even to great and horrendous injustices.
When we see a pattern of that, it is not just on huge things that we need to reform our lives, but it is even on the little ones. We need to make sure that we are not giving ourselves excuses and leeway. As we strive to unite ourselves with the Lord, it must be in everything - the great and the small - because if we show ourselves to be faithful in the little things, then we can be trusted to be faithful in the big things.
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.