Sunday November 18, 2001 (Audio) Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time
Reading I (Malachi 3:19-20a) Reading II (2 Thessalonians 3:7-12)
Gospel (St. Luke 21:5-19)
In the Gospel reading today, Our Lord tells us that we will be hated by all because of His name. Now, this is not something that most people generally look forward to. It is not something that we would be excited about: the prospect of being hated by other people. Most of us spend an awful lot of time making sure that we are liked by other people. The difference here, of course, is that we are not to try to go out of our way to irritate people or to be obnoxious or to see if we can cause them to hate us, but rather the Lord says that we will be hated because of His name. Not because of anything else, but just because of the fact that we are followers of Jesus Christ.
When we hear the things that He tells us - that we will be hauled into court, that we will be put before governors and kings and we will be made to testify on His behalf, "Some will even lose their lives," He says - again, we need to ask ourselves, as we did last week: Are we willing to do that? Are we willing to stand up for what it means, even generically, to be Christian? And, more specifically, are we willing to stand up for what it means to be Catholic? It means the way that we live our lives must be different from the way that other people live. It means that we have to stand up for the truth. We have to live that truth; we have to put the truth into action.
There is no shortage of means by which we can do it. It can happen in very small ways: for instance, just simply the way that you dress and the way that you live and the way that you work. Saint Paul tells us in the second reading today that we are to work quietly for the food that we eat. And so it is to live and work in such a way that we are simply doing what is right, being an example to other people. Not necessarily saying a whole lot, but just simply living the faith. Then there are other ways that we can do things. At work you can even put up a crucifix by your desk or a picture of Our Blessed Lady. You can wear a crucifix around your neck or you can wear a little lapel pin or something like that. That would certainly indicate that you follow the Cross of Christ.
There are other ways that would perhaps require a little more courage: for instance, the wonderful people who go week after week to pray in front of the abortion mills to save the babies. Or there is a group of young people that went out on Friday night and prayed the rosary in front of a movie theater because of this Harry Potter movie that began. There was this group of mostly teenage kids putting their faith into action and where they were praying, several carloads of people turned away and drove out. Several parents came up and asked them why it was that they were there praying, and after hearing their reasoning they packed up their kids in the car and they left. It is that kind of a witness [against] what is wrong that we need to be about. How many Catholic people sent their kids to that awful movie? We are Catholics. This is something that is putting witchcraft and sorcery up as something that is good. And many, many Catholics are not only reading these unfortunate books, but now they are going to send their kids to the movie. Harry Potter trading cards have now become more popular than these unfortunate Pokemon trading cards that are completely satanic as well. You see, it does not require heroic efforts sometimes to be able to put our faith into action; it just requires that we stand up for what is right. Imagine if Catholic parents chose not to send their kids, not even to allow their kids to go to a movie like this. When their friends would ask why they could not go to the movie that would give parents an opportunity to witness on behalf of Christ.
Is that not exactly what Our Lord told us was the purpose? He said, "You will be taken up into court and before kings…and that will give you the opportunity to witness on My behalf." And you do not need to have all kinds of elegant sorts of defenses all prepared beforehand because the Lord has made a promise to us that if we are going to do His Will and if we are going to be persecuted for doing His Will that the Holy Spirit is going to be there to give us words and a wisdom which our adversaries will not be able to refute. That is a promise that Jesus has made. Now I should point out to you that there are a number of times that people come to me and say, "Father, when the time came and people challenged me, I had nothing to say. I was absolutely silent." All that we can say to that is: Do not think that God did not use that silence. It may be that the person who was challenging you was not really interested in the truth or it may be that the silence spoke more eloquently than any words possibly could have. Look, for instance, in the Gospel readings and see the eloquence of Saint Joseph: not one single word of Saint Joseph was ever written down. Yet, [there is] the holiness and example of this man, who has stood as a witness to Christ for two thousand years. So sometimes the silence speaks volumes. It is sort of like what Saint Francis of Assisi said: "Preach always – and, when necessary, use words." You must preach by your life. You do not necessarily have to be speaking all the time. God will give you the words and the wisdom. And if merely the actions are wisdom enough, then that is all it will require.
Trust in the Lord; trust in His promise. That is not easy for us to do. It is much easier for us to look at the way that everyone else is living and try to mold ourselves according to them. But that is not what we [should] do. Just look at the first reading and what Malachi says about what is going to happen: The day of the Lord is going to come, burning like an oven, and all evildoers will be set ablaze. They will be burnt; they will be made like stubble. And they will have no root or branch; they will be cut off. Now you stop and ask yourself, "What is it that I want Jesus to judge me according to? If I were to stand before the Lord right now, based on my actions (or my inaction, as the case may be), on the things that I stood up for or the things that I waffled on, would I be burnt down to a stubble because I refused to be a witness to Christ? Would I be judged harshly because I did not stand up for Him? Will He stand before His Father and deny me because I denied Him? Not that I necessarily outright denied Him, but it is just that I did not stand up for Him." He told us, if that is the case, that is what He will do for us. If we refuse to acknowledge Him before [men], He will refuse to acknowledge us before His Father and before the angels. Just like He tells us in the parables: when we stand on the outside and knock, He will say, "I tell you, I do not know who you are." Is that going to be our judgment? Are we going to expect that the Lord is going to act on our behalf when we refuse to act on His? You see, that is what it comes down to.
Too many people sit back with a total attachment to human affection and, in essence, they say, "All I want is to be nice." Somebody gave a talk once that I thought made a rather extraordinary point: He said that modern-day Christian people have an attitude that they need to be nicer than Jesus. Think about that. What do we do in the face of abortion? Are we nicer than Jesus? What do we do in the face of evil? Jesus was not "nice" about evil. Jesus was not a "nice" guy. Jesus Christ is God and He stood for what was right. He stood up in the face of evil and He died for it. What about us? Most of us, if we were faced with evil, probably would not use [words] like "brood of vipers", "hypocrites", "fools" and other terms that Our Lord used to describe what it was that these people were doing because that would not be very "nice"; we might hurt somebody’s feelings and then what would people think of us? What if Jesus had that attitude? You see, we are to take on the dispositions of Our Lord, the attitudes of Christ. Jesus would not have fit in very well in Minnesota - "Minnesota nice" has become the norm. Jesus stood for the truth; He stood for what was right. And we must do the same.
It may not be required of all of us to stand out in front of movie theaters and pray the rosary, but it is required of all of us that we stand up against these things, that if somebody asks us that we tell them it is wrong to go, that we do not allow our own children or grandchildren to be partaking of these sorts of things and that we speak up. We need to stand against evil. Sometimes, depending on the circumstances, merely a silent witness is all that is necessary; other times we need to speak. We need to gauge it according to the situation. But for each and every one of us, we are going to be held accountable for what we have done or what we have failed to do.
Now, when you look at the Gospel readings on that particular point, you will see that Jesus is very merciful when people acted in sinful ways and they repented. But you will also find, if you read the Gospels carefully, that He had absolutely zero tolerance for sins of omission, for the things that we failed to do that should have been done. He was very merciful with the sins of commission but there was very little mercy shown for the sins of omission. Are we really living our faith? Are we putting it into action?
The Lord also goes on in the Gospel reading today and as we look around the world we see that there are some extraordinary signs in the sky. We see that there are famines and floods and earthquakes. We see that the natural disasters are on the rise. Now we see wars and insurrections. All the things that Our Lord told us would happen. But all the things, too, that have been happening for two thousand years. He told us that we are not to fear. It is, once again, a matter of putting our faith into action – not to fear in the face of it all. We are not to be living on the natural level, but on the supernatural level. We are not to be living according to the things that we can see or what the media presents to us; we are to put our faith in Jesus Christ and we are to walk with confidence in Christ. It is precisely for that reason that we will be hated. If you look at what has been going on in the media for the last couple of months, it is completely about trying to instill fear into the hearts of the people because there is a larger agenda that is being pushed. And if you give in to the fear you are going to give in to precisely what somebody else wants you to do. Keep your focus on the Lord and you have nothing to fear.
Now, of course, you could retort with: "Jesus told us that we are going to be hauled into court and some will even be put to death. Should we not fear?" The answer is: "No, we should not. Jesus said, ‘Not even a hair on your head is going to be harmed.’" Now, again, you might ask: "How could a hair on my head not be harmed but I could be killed? That sounds like a complete contradiction. How is this possible?" What the Lord is making clear is that this is the way that you are going to glorify God and if you die for Him, you go straight to Heaven. Now, again, you could ask yourself: "If I wimp out on the faith and I deny what is right and they leave me alone and I go to hell for it, what would I have gained? A few more years of life here, no persecution for what I believe…but eternity separated from God. Or I could stand up for what is right with a clear conscience, knowing that this is correct. I may be persecuted, I may be hated, and I may even be put to death for it…and I will be rewarded with eternal life." That is what Our Lord is getting to. You will not be harmed. Look at the martyrs: They are heroes of our faith. They were not harmed even though they were put to death; that became freedom, that became true life for them. We need to learn from their example and we need to live the faith. The old saying is "Before you can die a martyr’s death, you have to live a martyr’s life." If we are not even willing to stand up to be known as Catholic, how are we ever going to stand up if somebody puts our faith to the test? We are not ever going to have to worry about dying for Christ if nobody even knows that we believe in Him.
That is what we need to look at today. Again, it is not a matter of being obnoxious about anything and seeing if we can go out and get ourselves killed; that is not what it is about. But it is precisely what Saint Paul is talking about: Quit being busybodies and just get busy about doing what we are supposed to do: to work quietly for Christ, to live the faith that we profess and to put it into action. That is what the Lord is asking of each one of us today. We need to look at the reality in which we stand today. Look at the mess around us, and then look at eternal life. Realize that there are only two possibilities for eternity and make a choice. We cannot have a foot in both camps. We need to put our faith into practice. We need to choose whom we will serve. Is it going to be the gods of this world or is it going to be Jesus Christ? If you want to be well liked, if you want to fit in, if you want a life of ease there is no shortage of opportunity out in the world. If you want eternity with Jesus Christ, then choose Jesus Christ and live the faith that you profess.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.