Monday August 13, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Deuteronomy 10:12-22) Gospel (St. Matthew 17:22-27)
In the first reading today, from the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses reminds the people that God is their glory and of all these things that He has done, that they themselves had seen. They now need to remove whatever stands in the way. He says to them: "Circumcise your hearts." Remember that the circumcision of the flesh for the Jewish people was a sign of the covenant. He is telling the people that a mark on the flesh is not going to guarantee them anything. It is the heart that makes the difference. And so, if there is something around your heart that is not allowing you to love God, get rid of it, cut it out, remove it; that is what he is telling the people. Make your hearts vulnerable, allow them to be wide open to the Lord. "God is your glory," he is telling the people," and He has done wondrous things, terrible things that you yourself have seen."
Of course, he is talking about the fact that their fathers and grandfathers had seen that God brought them through the Red Sea and He had worked the ten plagues in Egypt. These people now had seen 40 years in the desert and that God provided water and manna for them everyday for 40 years. I remember reading a quartermaster's report which said that in order to feed the number of people that Scripture tells us were out in the desert, it would take a train more than a mile long, filled with food top to bottom, every single day. So God did not provide just a tiny, little bit for the people - He provided an abundance. And they saw this every single day for 40 years.
As wonderful as that is, we can look at the Gospel reading and see what Our Lord tells us: The Son of Man is going to be handed over to men, He is going to be beaten, He is going to be crucified, and on the third day He will rise from the dead. We know that. As glorious as the things were that God did in the Old Testament time, they pale by comparison with what He has done with the Lord. And we are the ones who know these things.
Still, we struggle. Still, we are not sure whether we want to remove whatever stands in the way of our hearts because it seems that we are not sure whether we can trust God or not. We are not quite sure if we want to be vulnerable to the Lord. We are not really sure if we want to give ourselves entirely to Him. Yet He has shown, over and over again, that He will provide everything for us, that He has given us all. As Saint Paul says: "If God has given you His own Son, do you think there is anything He is going to keep from you?" If He provided for 600,000 people in the desert everyday for 40 years, He can certainly provide for us.
Moses says, "What is it that the Lord, your God asks? That you would be obedient to His commandments and that you would love Him with your whole heart and soul and strength." He is not asking a lot. Yet, in our pride and in our selfishness, we do not like to do it. We see that it is, obviously, the right thing to do. We know in our minds that it is the right thing to do. But the heart is where the problem lies, for most of us; we do not want to give it to the Lord. We do not want to remove all of the attachments and all the things that stand between us and the Lord.
So, with Moses and the prophet Jeremiah, all we can say is: "Circumcise your hearts, not your foreskins." That is what they are telling us and they make it very clear. Get rid of whatever is covering your heart. Get rid of all the junk that is in the way. Love the Lord, your God, and be obedient to Him. That is all that He is asking. He has demonstrated His fidelity, He has shown His love. Now all that He asks is that we would love Him in return.
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.