Sunday September 30, 2001 (Audio) Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twenty-sixth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Amos 6:1a, 4-7) Reading II (1 Timothy 6:11-16)
Gospel (St. Luke 16:19-31)
In the readings today, we see a couple of clear dichotomies: the dichotomy between rich and poor, the dichotomy between this world and the next world. Oftentimes, we think that being rich in this world is a wonderful thing. In the readings today, we see that it might not be so wonderful when it comes to the Day of Judgment. It is not so much a question of whether or not we were wealthy, but rather it is a question of what it does to us; oftentimes, the wealth is going to corrupt a person. But we can see from the readings today, it is not the wealth itself that was the problem.
In the first reading, Amos says, "Woe to the complacent in Israel!" Then he talks about what they do: how they lie on their beds of ivory, they improvise, they eat sumptuously, and they do all these things, but they are not upset over the destruction that has taken place in Israel. So it was not their wealth that was the problem; it was the corruption that followed from the wealth.
We see, basically, the same thing in the Gospel reading. We hear about Dives, the rich man, and we hear about Lazarus. Dives ate wonderfully from his table every day and did not lift a finger to help Lazarus. Because of wealth, as oftentimes happens, people in that kind of situation can order other people around. Others like to be around them because they think that they can share in their power and in their wealth. Consequently, even from hell, Dives is trying to tell Abraham to send Lazarus to wait on him - "After all, he was just this poor beggar and he is not worth anything so he can take care of me."
We see the corruption that can come and that is where the trouble is. It is not so much a matter of whether a person has some money, but it is what oftentimes comes with it. The temptation to fall into that corruption is so grave, that for the vast majority of us (and I would say probably about 98% of us) to have that kind of wealth would be the destruction of our souls.
We sometimes look at the very wealthy people, and we are filled with envy and jealousy. When people come in and they wonder: "Why do others have all these things and I do not?" I simply point out to them: "It is because you would probably get so attached to it, and you would probably be so proud of it, that you would wind up in hell for eternity. But God loves you so much that He does not give you those things." It is just the opposite of what we oftentimes think: "If God loved me, He would give me all of that." But that is not true.
If you are a parent, and you know that something is going to be bad for your children, even if they want it desperately and they are begging you for it, you are not going to give it to them. Sometimes, if they persist in their begging, you will finally say, "Fine. Go ahead. If you will not listen to me, I will let you do it your way." You allow it as an object lesson because you know they are going to get burned a little bit. You know it is not going to destroy them and you hope they learn a lesson from it. God will do the same thing with us, but He certainly does not want us to destroy ourselves in the process. There are some things that would be so bad for your children that, as a parent, you would not give it to them, even if they persisted in their begging. God is the most loving Father, and He is going to do the exact same thing. Sometimes, He allows certain things because He knows they are not good for us, but maybe we will learn a lesson from getting our fingers burnt a little bit and we will not stick our whole body into the fire. But He does not want to give us things that are going to destroy us. He wants only what is the very best for us. For us, then, we need to learn that.
It is precisely what Saint Paul talked about in the second reading. Talking to Timothy, he said, "Man of God that you are…" That is what each one of us is: We are a man or a woman of God. Therefore, it is what needs to be the priority for us. That is what he tells Timothy: "Set your heart on faith and righteousness." And he talks about making sure that we are looking for Christ. Again, we see where the difference is.
Dives is saying to Abraham, "Send Lazarus because if somebody comes back from the dead, they will recognize it and they will be able to turn their life over." But, of course, we know better than that. We already have Someone who has come back from the dead and how much has that done for the vast majority of people? If you were to go to work tomorrow and you were to look at all the people living their relatively pagan lives and you were to say, "Hey! Look at Jesus; He has come back from the dead! He has risen from the dead; He has gone to Heaven; He has opened the way to eternity for us! Change your lives! Repent!" What do you think they would do? Do you really think they would say, "You are right. If someone has come back from the dead and has opened the way to eternity for me, I will listen to you and I will change my life." I doubt it. Instead, they will ridicule you. They will make great sport of you, and you will become the lowliest in the office-place.
And so it is. They have rejected the One who has come back from the dead. But now, it is just the opposite. Of course, Our Lord will come back; but by that time it will be too late. On the Day that Our Lord returns it would be possible for people to repent, but they will not. Think of what will happen on the day Our Lord returns. If people see Jesus Christ coming back in glory, escorted by His angels, in power - they are going to run! They are going to hide their faces. They are not going to run to Our Lord; they are going to run from Our Lord because they will be ashamed. They will be filled with fear because all their lives they have been caught up in themselves, instead of in Him.
You and I (if we are in love with Jesus), if we see Him coming, we will run to Him. We will be begging for mercy from Him. We are not going to be arrogant and say, "Look, Lord, Here I am! I have been doing it Your way my whole life and aren't I wonderful? Thanks for coming back!" Rather we will be running to Him, begging for mercy for ourselves, as well as for others. But those who are not in love with Jesus, they will run the other way. Rather than looking to their only hope, to the only One who could extend mercy to them, they will run in fear for themselves.
That, again, is where the trouble of the wealth comes from: We get caught up in the self. That is why I keep standing up here, week after week, saying, "Look at all the wealth. Look at all the materialism. Look at all the attachments and get rid of them!" Why? Because they are so evil? No, that's not it. It is because they keep us from the Lord. It is not so much a question of whether or not one is going to come back from the dead because that has already happened. It is a matter that we are going to come back from the dead. And the question, then, is which way are we going to go? It is not about whether or not Lazarus is going to come down from Heaven, and it is not even a question of whether Jesus is going to come down from Heaven. It is a question of whether we are going to focus ourselves on Heaven. That is where the question lies. Where is our priority? It is made very clear in the Gospel that even if one would come back from the dead, and even when the One will come back from Heaven, that is not going to change us. The change needs to take place now. We need to look and ask ourselves what is important.
Read again the second reading from Saint Paul. He talks to Timothy about Our Lord and about Our Heavenly Father and how they dwell in unapproachable light, and whom no one has ever seen. That is where we are to put our focus. And because that is where our focus is, Saint Paul says to Timothy: "Keep the commandment." What is the commandment? It is to love God and love neighbor. It is to get the focus off the self and put it on God and on others, where it belongs.
So if God has decided it will be best for your salvation to give you wealth, it was not because you were so wonderful and you deserved to have wealth, where other people did not. But rather, it is so that you could use that wealth to help others, to use what God has given you for the good of others. If God has chosen that you do not have wealth, it is because He knew that if you had it, you would not go to Heaven; you would use it for yourself instead of for others.
You need to look at so many of the people who have it and recognize what their wealth has done: Rather than using it for the good of others, they use it for themselves. They either hoard it, or they take care of themselves first. They make sure that all their wants and desires are met, and that everybody knows they have the wealth. Big fancy homes, fancy cars, all the finest food. Maybe they will give a buck or two to the poor, but they give thousands to themselves. That is the corruption of the wealth.
Now, each one of us needs to look at ourselves and ask what we are doing with the wealth. While there are some here who may be relatively poor, and some who may be relatively wealthy, by comparison with people who live in thatched huts and have nothing, all of us are rich. All of us, indeed, are very rich. And so the question is - What are we doing with it? Where are our priorities? Are we using what God has given us to help those who need the help? Or are we using it to look out for what we have decided is number one? In the lives of most Americans, God is not number one - we are number one in our own lives. That is what needs to change.
If we are going to keep the commandment, as Saint Paul said to Timothy, it means "love". Love God and love neighbor; do not look out just for the self, but place others before ourselves. As Saint Paul also says, "Think humbly of others being more important than yourselves." That is what we need to see. It is not a question of whether we can be above another; but rather, we can learn from Our Lady and we can be humble. We can learn from Our Lord, "who was rich," Saint Paul says, "and humbled Himself, taking the form of a slave." That is the example that is set out for us.
We need to look seriously at these things. We cannot be complacent. If you walk away this morning, saying, "Yeah, he's just saying the same thing again. We've heard it how many times? I don't need to listen to that stuff! It's not for me, it's for those billionaires. I'm not a billionaire, so it doesn't matter to me!" then you are like the complacent in Israel: lying on your beds and not worrying about the fact that we have gone astray as a society. If that is us, then we need to listen to the first word: "Woe to the complacent in Israel!" Woe to the complacent in America! Is that us? If we keep that message at an arm's distance, if we do not allow it to come into our hearts because it is going to cause us to make some changes and it is going to cause a little bit of internal turmoil because we are going to have to reassess our own situation, then we are the complacent.
We are not putting our focus on God. We are not so desirous of the One who dwells in light unapproachable that we are willing to get rid of the things that are going to make us wallow in the mud. We need to make some serious choices. We need to look at what is most important in our lives and seriously assess that. Do not walk away from here saying, "Oh, yeah. God is important to me," and then go home, only to make sure we have enough money and enough stuff.
Look at what is truly important and ask yourself that. Earnestly and seriously, ask yourself: "What is really most important to me?" Then, mold your life around it. If it is God, then love Him first and foremost. Look at what He has given to you so that you can love others well. Put God first. Seek faith, and seek righteousness. Seek God with your whole heart and soul and strength. Look at what is truly most important. Follow the Commandments and set your heart on Jesus Christ, who will come back to take us to Himself, but only if we are seeking Him first.
The choice is ours. We can seek this world, or we can seek the next. This world makes it look pretty easy. Lazarus, after all, had the things that were not good in this world; where Dives had the things that were. We have a choice to make: the riches of this world or the riches of Heaven. Jesus tells us: "Store up treasure in Heaven." That must be our priority. "Set your heart on the things above not on the things of earth," as Saint Paul says. Look at Jesus Christ and seek God with your whole heart, your whole soul, your whole mind, and your whole strength. Then, seek to love your neighbor as yourself. Then, and only then, will we have treasure in Heaven.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.