Monday October 8, 2001 (Audio) Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Jonah 1:1-2:1,11) Gospel (St. Luke 10:25-37)
In the first reading today, we hear the beginning of the Book of Jonah. We hear about Jonah being called by the Lord to go to Nineveh and preach, and Jonah, as we all know too well, did not want to do that so he boards a ship and goes to Tarshish. Tarshish is a name that basically implies "going as far as you possibly can in the other direction". There is no known place called Tarshish; it implies "the other side of the world", basically. It is made very clear, even from the reading, that he was fleeing from the Lord.
So, he gets upon this ship and as they go away, all of a sudden, the sea gets more and more turbulent. Jonah tells them it is because of him. But isn't it interesting that in the middle of it they ask him who he is and where he is from and he says, "I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord." And you say, "Wait a second. You are running away from the Lord; how can you claim to be worshiping the Lord?"
Doesn't that fit us all too well? We claim to be worshiping the Lord; we claim to be servants of the Lord - but all too often we run the other way. The Lord tells us: "This is what I want of you," and we do not want it because we do not think it sounds very good. That is a problem that we all have to deal with over and over again in the spiritual life. It keeps coming up because we like to be in control of things; we like to do it our way. When the Lord says to us: "This is what I want," then we tend to not want to do it. It seems too difficult for us.
For instance (just think generically), the Lord says, "I want you to remove all sin from your life." We do not like that. We like the sin that we keep committing. We are attached to it, whatever it may be. We like the pleasure; we like the ease; we like whatever it is that sin is providing for us. And so we say, "Well, it is not so bad, Lord. I've got it pretty well under control. You don't really want me to get rid of it completely, do You?" Or maybe He says, "I want you to give up some things. They are not sins, but they are in the way." Well, we do not like that either. What if the Lord were to say, "I want you to live poverty, and offer that up." ? Most of us would run the other way. We would find the first ship to Tarshish and we would get on it. Or if the Lord were to say, "I want you to suffer a great illness so that you can help to save many souls. It is going to leave you in very difficult straits for a number of years."? We would say, "I don't want to do it."
You see, when the Lord asks us to do something we do not want it, very often. Now, if the Lord said, "I want you to be a millionaire and have a fancy car and be a big shot and have everybody worshiping you," then we might think that was all right - which is exactly the opposite of what we ought to be doing. We should run away from that, but, unfortunately, most of us would run toward that. We see that we have got things a little bit mixed up.
In the Gospel reading, the Lord tells us that the first and greatest commandment is to love God with our whole heart and soul and strength. Like Jonah, we will be the first to stand up and say, "I worship the Lord. I worship the God of Heaven, the God who made the earth and the sea and all that is in them." Yet, look at the turbulence of the sea; Jonah recognized it was because of him, because he was running away.
Now, it is rather apropos to see this today (considering what occurred starting yesterday): War is the result of sin - the direct result of sin. When we see the things that are going on, we see it is becoming more and more turbulent; maybe not the sea, but the world. We claim to worship God, who created the world, and the world is becoming more and more turbulent. The reason is that most people are not worshiping God very well. We are not doing what we ought. We are heaping sin upon sin in this world and now it is growing more and more turbulent. So we need to pray, but we need to be earnest about doing the Will of God. It is not merely a matter of praying that the war would stop; it is not merely a matter of praying that injustices would end; it is not merely a matter of praying for the innocent victims of difficult situations - it is a matter of making changes. We need to do all of those other things in prayer, as well. But this world needs to change: People need to stop sinning; people need to start truly worshiping God with their whole heart and soul and strength, not only with a little bit of their heart and soul and strength. It needs to be complete. We need to be earnest about what it is that we say, or else we are like Jonah: telling everybody that we worship God, but running the other direction.
Again, see who the neighbor was in the Gospel: It was the man who put himself out. He spent his money; he spent his time; he spent his effort on helping this man who had fallen in with the robbers. It was not just to say, "Oh yeah, I'll say a quick prayer for you. Nice to see you on the side of the road, too bad you got beat up." Rather, he picked the man up and he took care of him.
We need to look at ourselves and ask, "What are we really doing in the service of the Lord? How much effort are we making? How much are we putting ourselves out? How much are we really seeking the Will of God?" If we are to love Him with our whole heart and soul and strength, and love our neighbor as ourselves, that is going to require a lot of us. It requires dying to self and putting ourselves out for others. When most of us think of that we run the other way. So, that is what we need to think about very seriously and pray about. Earnestly ask God, "What do You want of me? What do You want of me?" Then, we need to be willing to do it, whatever it is and whatever it requires, without counting the cost. If we are really going to worship God, then we need to do His Will in all things.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.