Wednesday August 28, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time
Reading ( 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8) Gospel (St. Matthew 23:23-26)
In the first reading today, Saint Paul tells the Thessalonians that while they were among the people of Thessalonica they did not do anything out of human motive. There was no deceit; there was no trickery; they were not trying to impress anybody. He talks about how they had just been thoroughly humiliated at Philippi. Now they went to Thessalonica, and he even says it was in the face of great opposition that they preached the Word of God.
We can see what was happening: They were being accused of doing things for themselves rather than for God. Saint Paul is saying: "There is no possible way we could have been doing it for ourselves: This was a word that people did not want to hear; there was great opposition; we had just been humiliated. We were not doing this because we wanted you to like us." He goes on to talk about how everything they did was because of God. They were not interested in trying to do things to get people's attention or their affection or to be liked or thought well of. But rather, it was out of love for God and out of love for the people of Thessalonica that they were preaching the Gospel there.
This is something that we all have to keep looking at. It is so easy to fall into that point of attachment to human affection: wanting to be liked, wanting to fit in, wanting people to think well of us, doing it for ourselves rather than for God. And it may well be that what we are doing for the other person is something very kind, something even very good; like in this case, where Saint Paul was bringing the Gospel to people who had never heard of Christ. It is a wonderful thing, but if it is done for the wrong reason, then it loses its power.
That is the thing we have to look at because if we do nice things for other people, but we are really doing it for ourselves, it is not charity - it only appears to be charity. It may be something that is good for the other person; but like Our Lord tells us, if we do all of these various things but we are seeking attention, "Then," He says, "you have already received your reward." And so I think if we would do that, Our Lord, just as He did in the Gospel reading today, would look at us and say: "You frauds! You blind guides!" because we are not doing it for the right reason. We might be doing the right things, but for the wrong reason. That is when the Lord says, "Do not just make the outside look nice, clean the inside of the cup." Or should we say: "Clean up the heart so that the outside reflects what is going on inside."
If all we do is put up this façade and say, "Look at me! I am a wonderful Catholic. I am trying to live the Catholic life as perfectly as I can. I am an example to you!" it is pure pride. It may be that we are giving a good example to the person; nonetheless, if what we are doing is trying to show off, trying to make the person think well of us, trying to show them how spiritual we are or whatever it may be - that is false.
Now, that does not mean we should go around making sure everybody recognizes how horrible and wretched we are by living lives that really reflect, sometimes, what goes on in the heart; or that everything that comes into our heads ought to come out of our mouths. We need to learn how to control these things, but it is for the right reason. In other words, if we are trying to live our life for God rather than to impress other people, then we are doing okay. But if what we do is live one way when we are by ourselves, then as soon as somebody comes along, suddenly, we put up this nice façade so that we look good in their eyes, that is where we are being hypocrites.
We need to try to live good, holy lives. But we need to try to live it for God not for everybody else. It is not a matter of trying to impress anybody; but it is a matter of trying - really and truly - to live as God wants us to live, to cleanse the heart so that the outside actions reflect true holiness. Not merely to cleanse the outside, leaving the inside filled with rot. We need to make sure that it is the heart we are working on. And whatever it is that we do, as Saint Paul says, "Do it for God rather than for men."
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.