Friday January 4, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Week Before Epiphany
Reading (1 John 3:7-10) Gospel (St. John 1:35-42)
When we hear the words of the first reading today, we might be tempted to despair because it tells us that anyone who sins belongs to the devil, and anyone who does not sin belongs to God; therefore, it is pretty evident to tell who belongs to whom. Well, since probably none of us is absolutely perfect and have overcome sin in our lives, we would be tempted to assume, therefore, that we must belong to Satan. But it is not that we belong to him; it is that he still has some power over us. We belong to God and we are children of God, but we have not rooted sin out of our lives as yet. And so there is a struggle.
There are those people who truly are holy, who have overcome sin in their lives, and they act in absolute holiness. Those people obviously belong to God. There are those people who simply give in to their sinfulness: They do not want to get out of it; they are simply wallowing in the mire of the filth. They clearly belong to Satan. They have given themselves over to him and they do not want to get away from it. But then there are the ones in between - that is us: The ones who belong to God and who are trying to break the bondage that Satan holds upon us.
Saint John tells us that this is the reason why the Son of God revealed Himself: to be able to free us from Satan, to be able to destroy Satan's works. Every time that we go to confession, we destroy the work of Satan within us. It is not that we have given ourselves to the devil to be his children and that we have decided we do not want to be God's children anymore, but rather, it is a matter that we have not yet given ourselves freely, willfully, to God. That is, we have not given ourselves entirely to Him yet. We are trying but it has not yet occurred. And so we are still trying to break the hold that Satan has on us.
But what we need to make sure that we are doing is really making that effort. As I was [saying] the other day, we have to will to do this. It is not a matter of wanting it. It is not a matter of sitting back, saying, "Wouldn't it be nice if I didn't sin anymore? Wouldn't it be a good thing if …?" Yes, it would. But it is not enough to have this nice idea; we have to choose it. We have to really go after it, which means that what we have to do is pretty radical. We have to really do war within our own selves. It is not something that anybody is going to overcome by passively going about this. We have to do violence to our own desires because those desires are going to lead us the wrong way.
But we are not in it alone. We look at the Gospel reading today and we see Saint John pointing out Jesus again, and then the disciples following Him and asking Him, "Lord, where do you stay?" He calls us to come and see. They stayed with Him that day, it tells us. He stays within us if we are in the state of grace. He is right there, dwelling within our hearts. We are not alone. So, too, when He sees Simon Peter, He says, "You are Simon, son of John. From now on your name will be Cephas - Peter." He changes the reality of Peter's being: changes his name, which points to an interior change. That same thing happened to us on the day of Baptism. It was then that we received a name. It was then that the Lord began to dwell within us. So we are not alone in this battle against Satan and against sin: We have the Lord with us.
But it is a question of how badly we want to get rid of sin in our lives. Again, the difficulty comes that we look at it on one level and say, "How nice it would be if we could be without sin, if we could be totally united to the Lord." But then when we look at what it would require, we say, "But I kind of like doing those things. I don't know if I want to get rid of that in my life; I find that kind of pleasant. These things are fun." And as long as they are not mortal sin we think it is no big deal. It is still sin and it needs to go.
But the problem for most human beings is we do not really want to get rid of sin in our lives. We will daydream about what it might be like to be holy, but we do not really want it because we are attached to the sin and we do not want to get rid of it. The very reason why the Son of God revealed Himself was to destroy the works of the devil; and the works of the devil are sin. So as long as we are giving ourselves over to sin and we are hanging on to sin and we do not want to get rid of it, to that degree we are giving ourselves to Satan. That is what needs to be broken within us. It is not that we are not the children of God; it is just simply that we are not doing this wholeheartedly.
That is why the Lord tells us that we are to love God with our whole heart and soul and strength, not love God with part of your heart and soul and strength - [but] your whole heart. He wants us to give ourselves completely, wholeheartedly, unreservedly to God. That is what we need to choose. Most of us give ourselves partially to God because we do not really want to do it all the way. Whatever our reasons might be, most of us really do not want to do it. We need to get beyond the dream state of thinking how nice it would be if we were holy, how interesting life might be if we always did things God's way; we need to make the choice to do it. That is what Saint John is getting at today. If we really want to be completely and fully the children of God, we need to break the work of the devil, we need to reject sin - which we promised to do on the day we were baptized, and we need to choose God and His way in all things. We do not want any bondage of Satan in our lives. If that is the case, then we must choose God with our whole heart and soul and strength, and allow Him to destroy the works of Satan within us.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.