April 27, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Divine Mercy Sunday
Reading I (Acts 4:32-35) Reading II (1 John 5:1-6)
Gospel (St. John 20:19-31)
In the second reading today, Saint John tells us that we have conquered the world and that what gives us this victory over the world is our faith in Jesus Christ. And we read at the very end of today’s Gospel reading that all of these things that have been written down are written so that we will have faith, so that we will know that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God, and that we will have life in His Name. So it is evident that the life Saint John is talking about is different than the natural life that we already have. It is also evident that he is talking about things in the immediate rather than just saying, “so that you will be able to go to Heaven.” That is what faith will do for us, ultimately, but even in this world the faith that we have gives to us a life which is different from just the natural and worldly life.
And so we have to ask ourselves, “What does it mean to have conquered the world?” The Lord tells us in Saint John’s Gospel that He has overcome the world. And when we look at what we celebrate in this glorious feast of Easter, it is precisely the fact that in His humanity Jesus Christ has indeed completely overcome the world and everything of the world. He has destroyed death. He has destroyed everything that is not of God. Not destroyed it in the sense that it is not there any longer, but rather destroyed it in the sense that it has no power over us. Now the way that it will have no power over us is if we are living our faith in Jesus Christ – and that choice lies entirely with us.
We have spoken many times about the dignity which is ours because of our baptism, what it means to be a member of Jesus Christ. We know that in Baptism we were baptized into the death and the Resurrection of Christ. We already share, then, in His Resurrection. Last week, we heard from Saint Paul that we are to keep our focus on the things above rather than on the things of earth because we are already seated at God’s right hand in Christ. If we are members of Jesus Christ and He is resurrected and ascended, then we are resurrected and ascended with Him, which is why faith in Jesus Christ overcomes the world. But we need to look at ourselves and ask ourselves, “Are we keeping our focus on the things above rather than on the things below? Are we really living our faith in Jesus Christ?”
To live one’s faith in Jesus Christ does not mean to show up for one hour on Sunday morning. That is not living one’s faith in Jesus Christ. That is saying, “Well, since I claim to be a Christian, I guess I have to act a little bit like it. And there’s an obligation to be at Mass on Sunday, so I guess I have to do that.” But that is not living one’s faith in Christ; that is putting one’s toe in the water and seeing what the temperature is. To live one’s faith in Jesus Christ is to take the plunge off the diving board into the deep end. In fact, that is precisely what our Holy Father has asked us to do. A couple of years ago, he wrote a document that is called Duc in Altum, which means “Put Out into the Deep”. Do not be wading around in the shallow end anymore, get out into the deep where you are going to be able to make a catch.
We need to look at this faith of ours. Are we immersing ourselves in the world or are we immersing ourselves in Jesus Christ? It is one or the other; you cannot have both. We have to live in the world, but as we have already seen, there is a life and a way of life even in this world that is not of this world. And that is what we need to ask ourselves if we are living. If we are living for this world, it is to have more, better, more expensive, fancier, bigger, all of the worldly things, everything that the marketing people can convince us that we need to have. Why do we think we need them? Look at the life of Jesus: He lived in this world with nothing. Look at the early Church, what we heard in the first reading: The community of believers was of one heart and one mind, and none of them considered anything to be their own. Now that is not something we are able to do in the situation of today; one can only do that in a small community, which is what the early Church was. We have that, for instance, in monastic life. You look at the monks and the nuns, and none of them own anything of their own; everything belongs to the community. But in a family that can certainly be the case.
So I challenge you: When you go home today, look around your house – not only for all of the stuff that you really do not need – but look around the house and ask yourself, “What do I consider to be mine?” as opposed to, “What do I consider to be ours?” If we are living a true life in Christ, it isn’t about “mine” and “yours” – it is “ours”. It would be “our house” and “our car” and “our things” not “mine”. We need to really think about that. We look at the generosity and the charity of the people in the early Church that we hear about in the first reading. When there were people in need, they sold the things that they had and distributed to the needy. Most Americans, the studies tell us, can live no longer than about two months if they were to lose their job today. And it is not because they are spending their money only on what is necessary; it is because we have this problem that if we have more money, we think we need to buy more things with it. And it is all about the self! It is all about “me”; it is all about “getting more for myself”. “I’ve got more money, I need a new car. I’ve got more money, I need a bigger house. I’ve got more money, I need more stuff” – a new cabin, a new boat, whatever it happens to be. Why? There are things that are necessities, and they are just that; the rest of it is not. We do not need to have these things.
We really need to look at ourselves that way and compare our life to the life of the Holy Family. Look at the example of Jesus and Mary and ask yourself quite simply, “Is this the way that Our Lady would live her life if she were in the 21st century? Would she be living the way that I am?” Would she want to have the fanciest, brand-new car with all the buttons and gadgets to impress everybody? She might have a car; I doubt she would have the fanciest one she could find. Would she want the biggest house with the most expensive TV set so she could watch the filth that is on there? I kind of have my doubts. Just look around your house and ask, “What would not be in the house if Jesus and Mary lived here?” If we have faith in Jesus Christ, He does live there! And so you can look around your house and ask yourself if you have overcome the world or if you have immersed yourself in the world. Are you living your faith in Jesus Christ or are you living your faith in the almighty dollar?
These are the things we need to look at. If we really, truly believe what we profess, we have risen in Jesus Christ, we are already seated at God’s right hand in Jesus Christ, and we have conquered the world in Jesus Christ. Instead, most Americans, rather than believing in the Resurrection and living it, have given into death and have immersed themselves in it. Putting ourselves deeper and deeper and deeper into materialism and money would be tantamount to Jesus saying, “You know what? I like being dead in the tomb and I think I’ll stay here.” We do not seem to want to rise above the world – we want to immerse ourselves deeper into it. That is not living our faith in Jesus Christ. That is what we need to look at. What is being offered to us is life, life in Christ. Jesus has conquered the world and this faith of ours gives us victory, not only over sin and death, but over the world itself and over Satan. So the life that is being offered to us is a life of true freedom; it is the life of Jesus Christ and all that that entails. But the choice is ours: to immerse ourselves in the world or to immerse ourselves in Jesus Christ. And it is this faith of ours in Jesus Christ that has conquered the world.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.