Tuesday October 16, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Romans 1:16-25) Gospel (St. Luke 11:37-41)
In the first reading today, Saint Paul talks about how these individuals of whom he is speaking are without excuse "because what could be known about God is known to them" and "they chose to exchange the glory of the immortal God for creatures, choosing to worship the creature rather than the Creator." He goes on to talk about how they handed themselves over to the mutual degradation of their bodies and all these other things.
What he is talking about, if the reading would have continued on for a couple more verses, are those who choose to practice homosexuality. It is clear that it is not something that is a born trait; it is not something that is there just as a natural thing. But rather, it is something that is chosen; it is something that is learned; it is something that they have chosen against the truth. Consequently, in choosing against the truth, their minds have become perverse.
The same thing happens with any variety of sin. When we choose to sin and we choose against the truth, the mind goes further and further from the Lord. Not necessarily to the degree that Saint Paul is talking about here with these folks; but rather, it is simply that our minds become hardened to what is true, to what we know to be right. We all know how that works. The first time we give in to something that we know is wrong, our consciences bother us. After a few more times, well, it is just no big deal anymore; we have deadened the conscience. Then we start giving in to other things that we know to be wrong; but, once again, it just does not bother us a whole lot.
In the Gospel reading, the Lord gives us the remedy for overcoming many of our problems. He says, "Give what you have as alms." The difficulty, however, is if we give ourselves over to sin, we are giving ourselves over to selfishness. And when we give ourselves over to selfishness, then we are going to wind up falling directly into hoarding things for ourselves; we are going to fall into all kinds of attachments and seeking the self. If that happens, we will not want to practice almsgiving because we are going to be more interested in ourselves than in charity toward others. That is the nature of sin: It makes one exceedingly self-centered. Almsgiving, of course, has to focus on the good of others, rather than on the self. Consequently, what happens is that we might give a little bit that we have skimmed off the top, but we certainly do not want to give anything beyond that because that might hurt. We would feel that a little bit and we do not want to deal with any kind of inconvenience or difficulty that something like that would cause.
So, we can just look at ourselves and realize that, perhaps, unlike the people of the first reading, we have not gone nearly that far; but we do need to look at the areas of sin in our lives. We need to look at the selfishness; we need to look at where our minds have become perverse against God, where we have chosen to exchange the glory of the immortal God for creatures. Particularly, we need to look at where we are exchanging the glory of the immortal God for money or for materialism because those are the things which, in this society, tend to be the biggest problem for people. Then we need to look at what we are hanging on to, what we are hoarding for ourselves, what we make sure that we look out for ourselves first in before we even consider the good of others. That is where we can see that sin has entered and taken a firm hold in our lives. We need to work against that, to pray against that, to work to remove the sin from our lives, and then to deal with the detachments and the charity that we are going to need to overcome that.
The Lord tells us then, in the Gospel reading, that if we give what we have as alms, all will be washed clean. We won't just look good on the outside. We all know there are lots of people who are in the throes of sin who make themselves look pretty good. People think that they are wonderful people because they do this or they do that and "Aren't they nice?" while at the same time they are steeped in sin. So the Lord is saying, "Do not just make the outside look nice; make the inside truly clean, pure for the love of God."
The way we are going to do that is prayer, fasting, and almsgiving - the traditional ways of being able to die to self so that we can live for God and neighbor. The Lord makes clear in the Gospel that it is in the almsgiving, the breaking of those attachments, the breaking of the materialism, that we are going to break our own will and that all, then, will be made clean.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.