Monday August 19, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Ezekiel 24:15-23) Gospel (St. Matthew 19:16-22)
In the Gospel reading tonight, Our Lord tells us that not only do we need to follow the Commandments (while that is enough to get into Heaven), but He says, "If you would be perfect, go and sell what you have, give it to the poor, and then come follow Me." With that, the young man's face fell; he walked away from Jesus and refused to follow Him because he had many possessions and he was attached to them.
We all have certain things to which we are attached. One of the first things that God begins to work on when we take up the spiritual life is breaking us of our attachments. However, most people never get beyond that level because they refuse to give up the things they are attached to. It is not even necessarily that they are sinful things; they are just things that stand between us and God; they are things that we make more important than God; they are things that get in the way. Consequently, what happens is we like them better than we like God and we refuse to grow in the spiritual life because we refuse to let go of whatever these attachments happen to be.
Now, we can look at ourselves and ask, "Which would be our reaction? That of the young man, who, when Jesus told him what he needed to do in order to be perfect, walked away sad? Or the reaction of Ezekiel in the first reading?" When the Lord tells Ezekiel, "I am going to take from you the delight of your eyes," in fact, it was going to be the person closest to him, the one that would be the most devastating of all to lose. It was his own wife who was going to die. And God says, "You shall not mourn. You keep your turban on your head; you keep your sandals on your feet." The people of Israel, when they would mourn, would take their turban and their sandals off and they would look disheveled. Everybody knew they were mourning. They wore special clothes for mourning, and they did certain things to let everyone know that they were in mourning. When Ezekiel's wife died and he did not mourn - he did not cry, there were no external sighs, there were no external signs that he was mourning at all - the people came and said, "Why are you doing this? What does this mean?" They knew he was a prophet, so they knew that whatever it was had some sort of prophetic meaning. And then he went on to tell them, "God is going to destroy the temple. And you know what's going to happen when He does? You're going to do exactly what I'm doing. You're not going to care. You're not going to mourn. You're not going to take the turban off your head. You're going to keep the sandals on your feet. There's going to be no mourning at all."
Now when we think about what is going on in our society, we really need to ask ourselves, "How many people who call themselves Catholic would mourn if the Church were destroyed? How many would care?" Sadly, not as many as we might think, because there are too many people who really do not care about what the Church teaches. They want to do their own thing. They want to make up their own religion. They want to have their own rules. I marvel at the faith of our young people when the Holy Father comes and a half million young people come to see him. And I wonder to myself, "What would happen if instead of having World Youth Day he had World Middle-Age Day?" How many people do you think would show up? Not very many, I am afraid, because there are other things that are far more important to us than the Pope, far more important to us than the truth, far more important to us than Jesus Christ and His Church. And that is a pretty sad indictment.
So we need to ask ourselves, "What really is more important to us?" If God took away our material things, would we walk away sad and disheartened? If God asked us to give up some of our material things, would we stop praying because we do not want to listen to God? Would we be upset? Would we be saddened because these are the things that are more important to us? But if God were to allow the Church to be destroyed, or if there were a voice on TV that said, "You can go ahead and violate the Sixth Commandment. You don't need to live according to the Ten Commandments; you can do your own thing," how many of us would be upset by that? Too many Americans would be rejoicing in the opportunity to say, "I don't have to do what anybody else tells me! And if the Church is gone, that's okay because I can make up my own religion anyway. I don't need Jesus. I'll make up my own Jesus. I'll make Him in my image and likeness rather than allowing myself to be made in His image and likeness." You see, if Jesus were taken away from most of us - the real Jesus - most people in America would not care. If we were living 2,500 years ago, the turban would stay on the head, the sandals would stay on the feet, we would not change clothes, we would not mourn, and we would not weep because Jesus does not mean all that much to us. But the TV and the radio and the CD's and all the junk that we have acquired, boy, if that was taken away from us, we would be in mourning for days and weeks and we would be angry that somebody took our things away.
Where are our priorities? The prophet Ezekiel did not shed any tears because he was prophesying what the people would do when the temple of God was destroyed and the people were sent into exile. The rich young man cared more about his material things than God. What about us? Where are our priorities? What is more important to us: our money and our materialism or our faith in Jesus Christ and His Church? Those are the questions that we really need to ask ourselves. Today we have a real crisis of faith. And it is not a crisis of faith in most of our young people; they have the faith. The crisis of faith is in those that are not so young. We need to look at it very, very seriously, and we need to ask that real serious question: What is most important? Are we willing to listen to Jesus say, "If you would be perfect, sell what you have, give it to the poor, and then come follow Me"?
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.