Wednesday July 31, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Jeremiah 15:10, 16-21) Gospel (St. Matthew 13:44-46)
In the first reading from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah, we have Jeremiah saying to his own mother, "Woe that you gave me birth! a man of strife and contention to all the land!" Then he turns to the Lord and says, "When I found your words, I devoured them; they became the joy and happiness of my heart because I bore Your Name, O Lord, God of hosts." I think many of us can understand that point. When there was a point of conversion or whenever it was that the Lord touched our hearts, suddenly we were filled with joy. We saw the Word of God, we understood, and we were filled with a love for God and a joy for doing His Will. Then as time went along, we started becoming more cynical, more angry, more frustrated, not unlike Jeremiah. He tells us that he is filled with indignation: "Under the weight of Your hand I sat alone because You filled me with indignation. Why is my pain continuous, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed?" What Jeremiah was doing was looking at all the bad stuff that was going on around him.
God, on the other hand, looks to Jeremiah and says to him, "If you repent, so that I restore you, in My presence you will stand; if you bring forth the precious without the vile, you will be My mouthpiece." That is the statement for each one of us. If you bring forth the precious without the vile. That is what we need. It is very easy to look at all the vile nonsense, but what good does it do for us to sit around and condemn everybody else and think ourselves to be self-righteous? What good does it do us to be looking at all the filth when we could be looking at Jesus? This is the point God is making to Jeremiah: If you repent… Notice that God does not say "If this people would repent…" but "If you repent…" That is where it needs to begin. So too for each one of us, we can look around at all of the garbage going on in the Church today - all the infidelity, all the liturgical nonsense, all the garbage, all the things that are happening; we can look around the world and see all the trash that is going on everywhere around us, and it is all true. What good does it do us if we curse and swear and make a fool of ourselves, beating our heads against a brick wall and pushing everybody away from us because it sounds to them like we are the self-righteous ones with a holier-than-thou and Pharisaical attitude?
Now again, all these things are true; but then, on the other hand, we have Jesus right here. It is His Church; He is the One who created the world; leave it in His hands. All we need to do is look at Him and preach Him and live Jesus Christ. Just think how much more happy we will be if we speak about Jesus and we have our focus on Him rather than focusing on all the filth and the garbage and the trash. Why go to the city dump and dig through the garbage when you have the Lord right here and you can look at Him? Why talk about rot and nonsense when you can talk about Jesus Christ? There is a huge difference there - and the difference is in us. The city dump is still there; we just don't have to look at it, and we don't need to talk about it all the time! We have to acknowledge it; but we do not need to rant and rave, jump up and down, and make fools of ourselves doing it.
Instead, it is to be able to show the dichotomy between that and the Lord. Our task is to bring hope to people. The way we can bring hope is to show them what is going on but then show them the way out. It is like teenage kids listening to rap music. Their world is crashing down around them and they are listening to this horrible music. When I asked the kids at school, "Why do you listen to that trash?" their answer was, "Because it speaks to me of reality." I said, "If that's your reality, it's pretty sad. Music should lift you up, not drag you down." How much more a Christian person: We should be lifting people up, not dragging them down. That is what Our Lord is speaking to each one of us: If you bring forth the precious - Jesus Christ - without the vile… There is plenty of vile; it is all around us and it is very easy to see. But we need to find the precious.
In the Gospel, Our Lord makes clear to us that we need to seek that with our whole heart, and we need to get rid of everything else once we find it. He is the Pearl of great price; He is the hidden Treasure. He says, "Once the person found it, they sold everything they had in order to get it." Now the guy who found the buried treasure, what do you think he is going to talk to his friends and family about - all the other fields that were bringing up weeds and all the garbage that he found? Do you think the guy who found the pearl is going to talk to them about all the malformed pearls, the cheap ones, the broken ones, and all the oysters he found with sand in them? No! He is going to talk about the pearl: "Look what I found! You're not going to believe this!" The guy who found the treasure is going to talk about the treasure! Why do we want to talk about all the filth and the garbage and the rot when we have the Treasure right here? We have the Pearl of great price but we instead hide it so that we can focus on the oyster shell instead of the Pearl on the inside. Why focus on the field and the weeds when we can focus on the Treasure that is buried in it? That is what the Lord is asking of us.
And so, He speaks, just as He did to Jeremiah, who was living in a time when Judaism was in disarray, when things were a mess. The Lord is saying, "Get rid of your self-righteous indignation. Get rid of the nonsense." If you repent…He says to Jeremiah and He says to each one of us: "If you repent, then I will restore you and in My presence you will stand. If you bring forth the precious without the vile, you will be My mouthpiece." Then will come the repentance of the others, because He follows that by saying, "Then it will be they who turn to you, and not you who turn to them." That is what we have to be about. We are not going to convert anybody by pointing out all the filth that they are wallowing in; but rather, we need to point the way out of the filth - and there is only one way; that is, Jesus Christ, the precious without the vile.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.