Friday March 8, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Third Week of Lent
Reading (Hosea 14:2-10) Gospel (St. Mark 12:28-34)
In the first reading today from the Book of the Prophet Hosea, the Lord calls to the people of Israel and says, "You have collapsed through your guilt." But then He calls to them to return: "Take with you words, and return to the Lord; say to Him, 'Forgive all iniquity, and receive what is good'." That is the way the Lord is calling each one of us - to be able to walk in that straight path that He tells us about at the end of the reading: "The paths of the Lord are straight; sinners stumble in them, but in them the just walk." And so, it is only by coming back to the Lord.
The question, then, is what does it mean to come back to the Lord? That is what the Church gives to us in the Gospel reading with this answer of Our Lord when they ask Him, "What is the greatest of all the commandments?" Above everything else that we are to do, what is the top priority? It is to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength" - to love God completely and perfectly. That is what it means to walk in the straight path. That is what it means to be one of the just who do not stumble in the path of the Lord.
Now we know that we are sinners so we know that we do not love the Lord our God with our whole heart and soul and strength the way that we should. We want to, but most of us continue to stumble along that path because we have other things (things that lead us away from God) that we also love, which means that we are loving God but not with our whole heart - maybe with most of the heart or, for some of us, maybe only with part of the heart; but nonetheless, not with the whole heart. So what we want to strive for is to be able to root out all of those things that lead us away from God and to make sure that our priorities are correct, to make sure that God is number one in our lives.
And, of course, flowing from that love for God is going to be the love for neighbor, the ones who are made in the image and likeness of God, the ones whom God loves. If God loves them and we love God, then we have to love our neighbor. We can also look, then, and ask ourselves: What is our attitude toward the people around us? Do we really want what is best for them or are we being selfish in some ways? Are we seeking ourselves? Are we trying to get even? Are we looking for bad things for people? Are we not always seeking what is the very best for them - maybe wanting something good for them, but so that we can get something in return, things like that? Those are points of selfishness or points, at least, where we are lacking charity toward the other. Once again, then, we are not loving our neighbor as ourselves. In that way, it is a clear indication that we are not loving God with our whole heart and soul and strength but stumbling on that straight path because we want it to be a little bit crooked.
And so, we need to be able to get rid of all of that stuff - get rid of everything that is not of God, everything that does not lead us toward God. Then the path will indeed be straight for us. We will no longer stumble, but we will be able to walk straight to the Lord by loving God and loving neighbor and fulfilling those two greatest commandments and being close then to the kingdom of God.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.