Tuesday August 27, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (2 Thessalonians 2:1-3a, 14-17) Gospel (St. Matthew 23:23-26)
In the Gospel reading this morning, Our Lord, in chastising the Pharisees again and telling them that what they are doing is neglecting the weightier things of the law and putting all their emphasis on the smaller points, then reminds them that they need to do both. But He tells them that what they are doing is "straining out the gnat and swallowing the camel". They pull the little, tiny things out, and yet, at the same time, they are giving into the huge things that are really areas of sin. We need to watch that same pattern in ourselves. Sometimes we will latch onto some small little thing, and yet the real problem that we have is not this tiny, little thing but we have got this major area of sin in our lives that needs to go. There is some point of disobedience to the Will of God and we know that it is there, but we do not want to deal with it because if you listen to the points that the Lord makes in the Gospel reading about what they are neglecting - they are neglecting such things as judgment, mercy, and fidelity - these are not easy things to be able to do. It is a whole lot easier to look at the little things like "Did you wash the cup just right?" Well, that is something that is tangible; you can see that the cup is clean. But it is hard to see - and it is very hard to practice - mercy, fidelity, judgment, and so on; but those are the things that are more important.
The Lord tells us that we need to do both, but really, when it comes to the Day of Judgment, we need to ask ourselves, "What is the Lord going to hold us more responsible for? These little things that we became scrupulous about? Or the big things that He requires of us like love of God and love of neighbor, praying for your persecutors and loving your enemies, things like this that are big and are difficult?" Those are the things, above all, that demonstrate us to be Christian, and we pour so much effort into little, tiny things that really do not mean a whole lot. It is good - I am not suggesting that we neglect them - but it is a matter of looking at priorities and asking ourselves, "How much time and effort do we spend on tiny, little things and how much do we fail to spend on the things that are really important?"
We need to look very carefully at our priorities and at the way that we put things because otherwise what happens is we are putting up a façade. We try to make ourselves look good, either in our own eyes or in the eyes of others. We try to convince our own selves that we are doing really well because we have got all these little things looking pretty good. It is sort of like if you make sure that you clean your house real well because you want to impress someone who is coming over, but at the same time it is falling down. You have got it looking pretty impressive - the façade looks good - but it is rotting out underneath. That is what we have to be very, very careful of. There are priorities and sometimes we do not have them right.
The Lord makes very clear to us what the priorities have to be when He tells us we have to put God first and love Him with our whole heart and soul and strength, and then we have to love our neighbor as ourselves. That requires a lot of effort to be able to do on our part. It is a lot easier to focus on some other minute, little things that are relatively meaningless by comparison, but we can convince ourselves that this is the way we are loving God. We need to be very careful to make sure we really are loving God and that we do those little things out of love for God. Not to try to impress Him, but because we love Him, because we want to be obedient to Him. And so, we are doing it for the right reason. That is the way everything needs to be in our lives: doing the right thing for the right purpose. Not doing the right thing because it looks good, because we want to impress someone else, or for any other selfish reason, but doing the right thing only for the right reason: out of love for God and love for neighbor.
So we need to look at our priorities. We need to look at them very, very carefully and just ask ourselves, "If God were to call me home today, what would my judgment be? Would He be able to look at me and see one who has really truly tried to live the Gospel that He preached? Or would He find one who has been picking and choosing what we want, choosing the easier things, the little things that are not so difficult, choosing the things that we like and ignoring the things that we don't, choosing the little external things that can make us look good while ignoring the interior things that truly make us good?" Those are some questions we need to be considering.
And if we would stand before the Lord pretty much empty-handed because all we would have were a few trinkets of little things that we did for the wrong reason, we do not have much hope. We need to change. We need to take on the weightier things - and the weightiest of all is charity - and to really seek to develop that charity in true love for God and true love for the people around us, dying to self and living for another. Those are the things that the Lord is going to be looking for. And if we are doing that, the little things will be there, but they will be there in a very different way because we will do even the smallest things with the greatest love. Then it will be truly pleasing to the Lord and our lives will be transformed to be the way that God desires us to be.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.