Sunday November 4, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time
Reading I (Wisdom 11:22-12:2) Reading II ( 2 Thessalonians 1:11-2:2)
Gospel (St. Luke 19:1-10)
In the Gospel reading today we hear that wonderful story about Zacchaeus, the little tiny man who was very wealthy, who was a dishonest man, yet wanted to see the Lord. He was a sinner, but there was something in his heart. The Lord made very clear that this man too was a son of Abraham, and the Lord came to seek out and to save what was lost. So all the people, who were the good people of the town of Jericho, were upset that the Lord would stay at the house of a sinner. But what they did not understand (as Our Lord makes very clear in other passages, especially with the Prodigal Son) is that everything He has was already there for the good people, but it was the one who was lost that the Lord had to come looking for.
It is such a profound story for all of us because we can relate very easily. Not necessarily that we are so small in stature we cannot see; but, spiritually, we are small in stature and, consequently, we cannot see. In the first reading we heard that God's Spirit is in everything and that if He did not want something to be, He would not have created it and He did not create anything that He hates, but rather that He loves. We hear those beautiful words in that first reading: "O God, Lover of souls." Ponder that and apply it to yourself. But then apply it to the people that you do not like. Who is your worst enemy, in your mind? Apply those words "O God, Lover of souls." God wants that person's soul just as desperately as He wants yours.
We have to always keep in mind that God is absolutely in love with us, and He wants us to be in love with Him. Now most of us probably love God, but at a distance. It is a little bit of a frightened sort of love. We hold Him in respect. We revere Him. Perhaps we even hold Him in awe. But how many of us can really say that we are in love with Jesus Christ? That is what we are supposed to be as Christian people: absolutely, head-over-heels in love with the Lord. And so the Lord comes looking for us and He finds that we do have that reverence and respect, there is that sense of awe; but, spiritually, we are very small in stature. We are afraid to be in love with the Lord because if we were in love with the Lord our lives would not look quite the way they do.
When we read about the people who are in love with the Lord, or who have lived in this world and were in love with the Lord - the great saints - we look at their lives and we say, "I don't want to be like that." We like what we see, but if we apply it to ourselves we think, "No, that would be too difficult." The saints tell us, when they are speaking of their relationship with the Lord (they say it in a rather humorous way, but I think that any young person who is in love understands this point), that love is unreasonable. Love is unreasonable. In other words, when you are in love you do not always think about the consequences of things. When you are in love, you do things that you normally would not do. For those of you who have teenage boys, just think of the things they do because of a young lady that they would never dream of doing in a million years. But, love is unreasonable, and look at what your son is willing to do (positively, that is) for the sake of this young woman. I am sure that the opposite is true for the girls, as well. You see where we put the mind to the side, sometimes, and operate from the heart.
That is what the Lord is asking of us. Not that we would throw our mind out the window and not be thinking creatures, but rather, that we would quit trying to calculate at every step what the cost is going to be and what the effects of our actions are going to be. Just think again of Zacchaeus. What a fool he would have looked like in the eyes of the people, running ahead and climbing up a tree so that he could see the Lord! Would you be willing to do that? If Jesus were walking down the street and there was a crowd of people there so you could be in the vicinity of the Lord, but you would not be able to see Him, would you be willing to climb a tree so that you could see the Lord? You begin to recognize, if you start feeling a little uneasy about that question, [that] love is unreasonable. If you thought about it you would say, "Probably not. I wouldn't be willing to do that. There are practical things: I might fall out of the tree; I'm not sure how I would get up there in the first place. But then comes the real practical part: What would people think of me? They're going to think I'm nuts if I'm standing up in that tree! I'm going to stand out like a sore thumb if I'm up in that tree." And so, most of us would probably say, "No, I'll just stay in the crowd. I'll just be like everyone else." But notice that Jesus did not go to the home of anyone who was "just part of the crowd"; He picked out the man who was willing to put himself out to see the Lord. And He said, "Zacchaeus, I must stay at your house today."
The Lord desires the same for each one of us. His Spirit is already in us, as we heard again in the Book of Wisdom, and which we already know. But the Lord is not content just to keep us in being: He wants to truly make us His dwelling place. Saint Paul says that the Lord wants to make us worthy of the call so that we would be able to glorify God - and that is to be the temple of the Holy Spirit. Not just a temple that is set aside, something that is out of the way, [where we say], "Yeah, the Holy Spirit dwells within me, but what difference does that make to me? I'm glad that He does because at least if I die in the state of grace I can go to Heaven." Well, that is a good thing, but that is not enough. The Lord wants you to be in love with Him. He wants the Holy Spirit to possess your soul to the point that you are willing to do whatever might be required. What that means is that if the Lord were walking by, you will do anything to see Him - climb a tree, if that is what is necessary; look like a fool, if that is what will be necessary.
But Saint Paul made it very clear when he said: "We are fools for Christ." Are you willing to be a fool for Christ? Are you willing to be thought crazy because of your love for God, because you are a Catholic? That is what the Lord is asking. Not that your faith would be "just this private thing between me and Jesus when I go to my room and close the door and make sure that no one else knows what I'm about." Now the Lord is not asking us to blow our horns out on the street corner and say, "Look at me! I'm a good Catholic and everybody can look at my example and I'll show off." That is not what He wants at all. But He also does not want us to be embarrassed of Him. If somebody asks you if you are a Catholic, do you start out by hemming and hawing and say, "Yes, butů"? Do you start making excuses for why you stay in the Catholic Church but really do not believe in everything the Church teaches? Do you start trying to water down the Faith immediately because you know it is not going to be acceptable to the people around you? If you are, you are embarrassed of Jesus Christ. You are not in love with the Lord, if that is the case.
A young man who is in love with a young woman would never be embarrassed of her. In fact, if somebody were to do something disrespectful to that woman, that young man would be right there to defend her honor and dignity. He would be willing to die for her, if that is what it would take. A young man, on the other hand, who might think that a young woman is a likeable person, if the tide turns the other way and she is not with the "in crowd", maybe he would go with the crowd. But if he is in love with her, it does not matter what anybody else thinks. All that matters is sticking up for what he knows and loves.
If we are in love with Jesus, it does not matter what anybody else thinks; it does not matter what they do or what they say. We are going to stick with Jesus. We are going to stand up for Him. We are going to defend His honor and His dignity. Then, the Lord will say, "Today salvation has come to this house." If Jesus is kept at an arm's distance and you think that He is a pretty neat guy, then you have missed the boat. Saint Paul said in the second reading, "He is our God and Lord," - not a pretty neat guy. "Jesus is a good guy." No, He isn't. Jesus is God. We need to recognize that and we need to put it into practice in our lives.
Do not keep the Lord at an arm's distance - let Him in. He is the Lover of your soul. Let Him into your soul. Let Him into your heart. Let Him take over your life; ask Him to do that. But the question really is - Do you want that? Do you really want the Lord to come into your house and stay with you today? Do you really want salvation to come to your house, that is, the house of your soul? Remember, in Latin, those words that we speak right before receiving Holy Communion: Domine, non sum dignus ut intres sub tectum meum: sed tantum dic verbo, et sanabitur anima mea. "Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed." That is the literal translation of the Latin. It is not to come into your physical house; it is to come into your soul, into the temple of the Lord that you already are, to allow the Lord to take over, to allow Him to love you the way that He wants to. Do not keep Him at a distance.
Think of how difficult a marriage would be if spouses simply lived in the same house, but kept one another at an arm's distance. It happens way too often in many marriages. They are not in love with one another any more. They have just become roommates. Is that the way Jesus is with us? We allow Him to be our roommate; He is an acquaintance. Or are we in love with Him the way that He is in love with us? He created you because He loves you. He wants you to be with Him for all eternity. And He wants you to be in love with Him now.
What do you think eternity is going to be? If you get into Heaven, it is not going to be at an arm's distance. It is not going to be: "God is pretty cool and He's a nice guy. It's pretty neat to be here with God." No, that will be the farthest thing from reality. If you make it to Heaven, you will be absolutely in love with God, who is absolutely in love with you. Do not wait to get to Heaven before you begin, because if that happens you may not get to Heaven. You need to love God now. And you need to strive to be in love with God now so that for all eternity you will be in love with God.
Enter into the mystery of the love of God. The place where you enter into that mystery is right in your own heart. And so, first things first. Saint Johns says, "Love consists in this: Not that we have loved God, but that He has loved us and has sent His Son as the expiation for our sins." As we heard in the reading from the Book of Wisdom, God slowly points out our sins. He rebukes us, little by little, to bring us back to Himself. Once we recognize what He has done for us, we realize that He has made the first move. And what is left for us [to do] is to open the heart and ask the Lord to enter into us so that we can enter into Him, to allow God to love us so that we can love Him.
But we need to accept His love for us so that we, in turn, can love Him. Receive the love of God. Accept that love, because it is real. It is the most real thing in the universe - the love of God for your soul. Let Him love you the way that He wants. Do not keep Him at an arm's distance. Open your heart and let Him in. When you recognize how much God loves you, then you, in return, must love Him. And do not count the cost. Do not be afraid of what it is going to require. But simply, as Our Lady has told us, do whatever He tells you. It may seem unreasonable at the time, but you will find that if you love God the way that He loves you it will be perfect. It may lead you to the Cross, because that is where the love of God for you led Our Lord. It may not always feel real good, but it will always be what is the best.
That is what the Lord is asking. Are we willing to say "yes"? If we say "no" to that because we are afraid, we remain in the crowd that is around our Lord. But if we are willing to say "yes", to do whatever it takes to see the Lord, then the Lord will look at you and He will say, "I mean to stay at your house today, because today salvation has come to this house."
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.