Sunday January 27, 2002 (Audio) Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Third Week in Ordinary Time
Reading I (Isaiah 8:23-9:3) Reading II (1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17)
Gospel (St. Matthew 4:12-23)
In the second reading today, Saint Paul, speaking to the people of Corinth, chastises them for their divisions within their Church. He talks about how some say "I belong to Paul", some say "I belong to Apollos", others say "I belong to Jesus", and so on. He asks the question: Is Christ divided? We make up the Mystical Body of Christ. There is only one Christ, therefore, if we are members of Christ we must all be united. That is precisely what Saint Paul told the Corinthians: They must be united in mind and in heart.
Now, we are told in the Gospel reading today that when Jesus went around Galilee He preached the Good News; He taught them. And we know that when He taught the people were spellbound and they were amazed by what He taught because we are told that He taught, not like the Pharisees and not like the scribes, but He taught with authority. The reason why His teaching was different was not because it was simply divine - their scribes and Pharisees also had the divine teaching: they knew the Scriptures; they had the Old Testament - but it was that Jesus was teaching the truth; that is where the difference lay.
The same is true for all of us. We really need to look into our hearts and ask ourselves: Are we united in mind and heart as members of Jesus Christ? We all claim, as Christian people, to follow Christ. Yet, if you look around at many of the various denominations that would call themselves Christian, we do not even believe in the same Christ. Some people stopped by earlier this week to invite us to a luncheon to talk about world peace. I said, "With whom are you connected?" They said, "Well, the Reverend Sun Myung Moon." And I said, "We don't believe in the same Jesus. You people aren't even Christian; how can we talk about peace when you don't even believe the truth?" Needless to say, they were not too pleased with me. But the fact of the matter is that we do not have the same faith. The people who call themselves Mormon do not believe in the same Jesus as we do. The people who want to call themselves Jehovah's Witnesses do not believe in the same Jesus as we do. And some of those who would call themselves Christian - when you just listen to them for a few minutes one has to wonder, once again, if they believe in the same Lord. Even among those who call themselves Catholic, we have to begin to wonder, sometimes, if we believe in the same Lord because there is only one Christ, and there is only one truth.
Truth is not something which is relative. That is, you cannot believe one thing and I believe another and we are both right. It is not possible when it comes to objective truth. Jesus taught the truth. In fact, Jesus is the truth. And because He is the truth, if we are going to be followers of Christ, we will only be united and we will only have peace when we are united in truth. Once again, it is not enough to be able to say that we believe in Jesus; if we proclaim faith in Jesus Christ, it must be faith in every single thing - everything - that Jesus taught and everything that His Church teaches because the Church is Jesus Christ.
Again, we must be very clear when we use that term that we are not using it generically. I have spoken to many people and I have mentioned that. They agree wholeheartedly (they are not Catholic) and they say, "Yes, I believe in the Church!" Not the same Church as I do. The Catholic Church is Jesus Christ. Now, that may sound judgmental - and American people do not like that very well - but just think about what Our Lord did. He looked at the scribes and Pharisees, and He called them "hypocrites" and "a brood of vipers"; He condemned people for not following the truth. He did not preach any sort of relativism; He preached the truth. And when some of His body of disciples did not like what He preached, He did not water it down to make it easier for them to accept: He let them walk away. Then, He looked at His twelve and He asked them, "Do you want to leave Me too?" He did not say, "Well, look…because this is a little too difficult for you, let Me make it easier. Let me water down the Gospel so that you do not walk away from it." No, we are told through the prophet Isaiah, and we see the fulfillment of that prophecy in the Gospel, that "a people who lived in darkness have seen a great light, and upon those who dwelled in a land overshadowed by death, a light has shone".
Jesus Christ is that light. In our land overshadowed by death, in our land where there are people who live in darkness because they reject the truth, there is only one way they are going to be able to be saved and there is only one way that any of us are going to have peace and unity, and that is in the truth. And the truth is Jesus Christ. We need to be very clear about that, not arrogant about it, not obnoxious about it, but to be clear and to be humble: We must uphold the truth; we must teach the truth; and we must seek to bring that truth to other people because only when they recognize that truth will they know the forgiveness of their sins; only when they recognize that truth will they find freedom for their souls; only when they recognize the truth will they find the joy and the hope and the happiness that come only in Jesus Christ.
And so, before we can look at anyone else, we need to start with ourselves. We need to ask ourselves: Do we believe in every single teaching of the Roman Catholic Church? Every single teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. Not - "Do I pick and choose what I like?" not - "Do I believe in 90% of what the Church teaches?" but - "Do I believe in every single doctrine of the Church?" because it all hangs together. It is like when children are building with their blocks, if you pull one block out, the whole structure falls down. The same is true with the teaching of the Church: If you pull one point out, the whole system collapses. As I have pointed out many times, as Catholics we do not simply believe in just a system of teachings; our belief is in a Person. We either accept that Person for Who He is - and He is God - or we reject Him. If we say, "I believe in most of what He said, but not all" then we are saying that He is not God because we are saying that He is in error, that He made a mistake, that He just did not know quite enough, that He was not enlightened enough. "Maybe if He would have lived in the twenty-first century He would not have taught the way that He did so we have to make it palatable for people of our age." That is nonsense. He is God. There is only one truth and He teaches that truth. And He continues to teach the exact same truth through His Church.
So, do we believe in the fullness of the truth? If we do, then we could be like Peter and Andrew and James and John: When Jesus called them, they followed Him. But if we do not believe in the truth, the fullness of the truth, then if the Lord calls to us, which He does, we would not follow Him. We would appreciate what He says; we would be attracted to Him, but we would not follow Him. We would be like that wider body of disciples who say, "This is hard to hear; who can endure it?" We would choose to continue living in the darkness, continuing to be overshadowed by death rather than to choose the light and the life which is Jesus Christ.
The Lord told us that we must be the light to the world. The only way we can be that light is if we carry Jesus Christ out into the world because He alone is the light. And we share the light which is Him. He must radiate from within us. But the only way that can happen is if we know Him, if we trust Him, if we believe Him, if we have union with Jesus Christ. We will have union with Jesus Christ only when we are united with Him in the truth so we need to make sure that we are deeply rooted in prayer, that we are studying our faith, and that we are seeking to shape ourselves and to mold ourselves according to that truth.
When we are willing to do that, then, as we hear in the prophet Isaiah today, the yoke on our shoulders and the pole and the rod will all be smashed. The yoke of slavery will be removed because we will choose the truth. Everything that held us down will be gone because we will have the freedom of the children of God. It is already offered to all of us. We are baptized into it. It is who we are, but many of us have rejected it because we do not want the truth. And if we do not want the truth, we are going to be just like the people of Corinth: we will be divided. All we need to do is look around and we see the result of that.
So we need to make the most serious decision: Do we want the truth or do we not? Do we want to truly follow Jesus Christ, to leave everything behind that is not Christ - like Peter and James and John and Andrew did - to follow Him? Or do we want to follow Him at a distance, not to really accept Him, not to really believe in Him, but to kind of be attracted to what He is saying; but, because we like the way we want things instead of the way He wants things, we want to hang on and we do not want to follow Him, we do not want to change because we do not want the truth? That choice is ours. And that choice is offered to every single person on the face of the earth.
But we need to bring that light out into the darkness. We need to bring the truth out into a world which is filled with lies. We need to shine in the darkness as the children of God and as members of Jesus Christ. But before that light can shine within us, we need, first, to be in union with Christ and we need to be in union with one another. There is only one source of unity and only one means of unity. The source of unity is Jesus Christ, and the means is unity in truth.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.