Friday December 28, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Feast of the Holy Innocents
Reading (1 John 1:5-2:2) Gospel (St. Matthew 2:13-18)
In the reading we heard from the First Letter of John, both yesterday and today, we see that the relationship with Christ is not something that can be selfish. In other words, it is not just "Me and Jesus". There are lots of people who want to think that is what they have: just this "Me and Jesus" relationship. But Saint John makes it very clear that the only way we are truly going to have fellowship with Him, as we saw yesterday, is if we tell other people about it. If the joy is only going to be complete when other people are brought into union with Christ, then we recognize that it is something which is communal.
Our love for God, while certainly having an individual element, is a communal element because God is the Father of a family. Just as children have an individual relationship with parents, it is [also] the whole family. It is not just "My mother and me" or "My father and me" but it is all of the children with one another and the parents. That is the way it has to be with God.
Saint John then goes on to talk about that fellowship today. The union is not just with Jesus, it is with the Trinity; and it is with one another. Therefore, in sharing the message of Jesus Christ with others and living that message ourselves we grow in holiness. And as we grow in holiness, the joy is going to fill our lives. As others grow in holiness, we do not become jealous of them, but rather, we rejoice because we see that there is greater love for God. More people are loving God even more and there is cause for rejoicing.
Yet at the same time, Saint John also points out in the reading today that there is a communal element to sin: that we are all guilty of sin, and that we all bear the burden of that. Even if we get to the point where we do not sin any longer, we recognize that, of course, we are born with Original Sin and all of us have sinned many, many times in our lives. Even those few saints who have never committed a mortal sin in their lives have still sinned many times - not mortally, but certainly many sins on the venial level and many imperfections. That has a communal element to it. Every single sin that is committed brings chaos into the world.
When we see the problems in the world of nature today that is the result of sin. With every sin there is going to be more turbulence, more trouble, more difficulty. And so all these problems that we are facing today are caused by human sin. Even for those who have never sinned in their lives, they are still having to deal with all the effects of other peopleís sin. So as they desire the holiness of others, they are going to be affected by the lack of holiness in others.
Now we can look and see what happens when we have any notion of selfishness. It is darkness. Even if it is just "Me and Jesus" Ė it is that personal relationship and that is all (not to say that we do not have a personal relationship with Christ; we must, but it does not end there) - that is not the end all and be all, it needs to go beyond that. But if it is selfish, selfishness leads directly to darkness. Saint John tells us that if we live in the darkness we have no part in the light. If we are living that way then "we are liars" he says. We are all, then, guilty. Now, we have the Intercessor who is just, pleading for us because we are sinners. Yet at the same time, we cannot remove ourselves from the sin. We cannot say that we are not affected by it or that we do not have some part in it.
That is the point that we have to understand with todayís feast and the Gospel reading. We see in the Gospel reading what unchecked selfishness is going to lead to: It leads to death. It leads to the death of other people. It leads to oneís own death because selfishness is sin. The synonym for selfishness is pride, very simple. It is all about "me" and we live in a "Me" generation. We live in a generation that is filled with darkness, that is filled with selfishness; therefore, it seeks only what is convenient to the self. It does not matter what the cost to others is because all that matters is "me". It is not about the common good; it is all about individual rights. All you need to do is turn on the news and that is what you are going to hear: everybody making their claim that "I have the right, therefore, whatever is inconvenient to me is okay for me to get rid of - even if that is a baby, even if that is another human person. If it is someone who is handicapped, if it is someone who is elderly, whatever the case might be, if this is something inconvenient to me then I have a right to be able to remove it because it is just about me." Charity has been lost because we have chosen selfishness over love. We have chosen darkness over light.
When we look at what Herod did in his selfishness, in his fear, and in his pride, he was willing to put to death all the little babies in Bethlehem. We are horrified by such a thing until we stop and look at our own society and most of the others in this world today. In their selfishness, in their fear, we [as a society] are putting to death million and millions and millions of babies every year. It is darkness. It is pure selfishness. It is pride. This world is living in darkness and gloom.
Thanks be to God, the light has shone in the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it. But there is only one way to be able to overcome this, and that is in Christ. It is not just having a "Me and Jesus" relationship but it is bringing Christ out into the world, being the light of the world, letting Christ shine through us so that others will see and they will repent and they will come to the Lord, that they will recognize for themselves that the only means of forgiveness is Christ. But it is not just about them. What they need to do is experience it themselves and then bring that to others. But how are they ever going to know unless those who have already experienced it are willing to go beyond themselves?
That is the fellowship Saint John is talking about: a fellowship with Christ and a fellowship with one another so that we all share in the burden of the sin. We are all affected by this heinousness that goes on in this world of killing innocent human beings. None of us is unaffected by it. Yet at the same time, we all have to share in taking on the task of trying to bring about the light and the forgiveness and the goodness that can be brought back into this. It is only going to be in the Eucharist that this is ever going to be stopped. It may be too late at this point, but we do not know that. We need to save as many as we can. We need to do our part, and that is going to start with prayer. But it is going to be prayer for the conversion of others; it is going to be prayer for the end of the slaughter; it is going to be prayer for mercy. Those are the things we need to be praying about. It is not just a matter of saying, "As long as I can be in front of the Blessed Sacrament praying, itís me and Jesus and Iím protected." That is not enough. It is about bringing as many as we can to the Lord, and bringing that light into the darkness because the darkness will never overcome it. No matter how dark it gets, the hope in Christ is always there for every single person. And it is our task to bring Christ to them so that our joy will be complete and that they will be able to share the joy of knowing Jesus Christ and His love and His mercy and His forgiveness.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.