Wednesday March 6, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Third Week of Lent
Reading (Deuteronomy 4:1, 5-9) Gospel (St. Matthew 5:17-19)
When we hear Our Lord telling us that He did not come to do away with the law and the prophets but to fulfill them, we then ask ourselves, naturally: "Then why is it that the kosher laws have been done away with? Why is it that some of the rituals have been done away with - the ceremonial laws? Why is it that we do not have to take a ritual bath before we come in to worship if we have committed a sin? Why is it that we do not have to offer certain sacrifices to the Lord? All of those were part of the law."
The reason is because there were two aspects of the law: there was a moral law and there was a ceremonial law. The ceremonial law has been done away with. That included all of the kosher laws and all of the things regarding the rituals and things of that order. It is the moral law that was not done away with. The ceremonial laws were all put in place because of the disobedience of the people. But in the obedience of Jesus Christ, the laws that were put in because of disobedience have now been obliterated. But all of the moral laws remain, and they remain completely intact. It is that which the Lord speaks of when He says, "Not even the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter is going to be done away with until they are all fulfilled."
For each one of us, then, we have to do exactly what Moses told the people. He said, "I am putting before you this law, and there is no law anywhere that is more just than this one because it is God's law." It is perfect. It is the law which - if we will fulfill it - is going to bring us freedom. Now when we look at all the commandments, most of them say Thou shalt not and we say, "How is there freedom if we cannot do things?" It is not a freedom of license; but rather, it is a freedom to be the children of God. It is that freedom which we seek: the freedom to do what is the very best for us.
And so, [it is] just as we would tell our own children: "You should not do these things." You do not tell your children that because you dislike them. You do not tell them that because you do not want what is best for them, but just the opposite. You tell them that they should not put their hand on the burner when they are little children because you do not want their hand to be burnt. You tell them not to walk across the street without holding Mom or Dad's hand because you do not want them to be hit by a car. You tell them that they have to be in by a certain time because you do not want anything to happen to them or [for them] to be lost. There a lot of things that appear to be negative precepts that are put in place for very positive reasons. That is the same thing with the commandments of God - all of them are positive. Even if the word "not" is in them, they are not negative precepts; they are all positive precepts. And they are all what is truly the best for us. They are all to set us free, if we are willing to fulfill them.
The Lord goes on in the Gospel to tell us, "Whoever does these things and teaches others to do them will be called great in the kingdom of Heaven." They are saints. They are the ones who have done the Will of God. But whoever breaks them and teaches others to break them is going to be called least in the kingdom of Heaven because we violate our own dignity then and we violate other people's dignity; and that, God is not going to tolerate very well.
Again, as we look at what God is asking of us, it is to be holy; it is to be saints. And we are going to do that by being obedient. Not just blind obedience, not just unthinking obedience, but in this case it is obedience of love: to love God and to love neighbor so perfectly that by nature we will simply fulfill every part of the law because it is just and it is right and it is what is best for us and it is what is best for the people around us. So when Saint Augustine says, "Love and do what you will," that does not mean love and then just go off and do anything. If you love, you are going to do the Will of God; you are going to do what is best for them. In that, you will fulfill the law. That is the Christian way. The way the Jewish people look at it is that you just simply try to be obedient to everything. The way the Christian looks at it: Love - and if you love, you will be obedient; and in being obedient, you will be considered great in the kingdom of Heaven.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.