Tuesday August 13, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Deuteronomy 34:1-12) Gospel (St. Matthew 18:15-20)
In the Gospel reading, Our Lord exhorts us to a rather astounding point of charity. That is, if someone sins against you, what you are to do is to deal with that person individually, to go and talk to the person. If the person does not listen to you, then bring along a witness. And if they still do not want to listen, then bring it to the Church. Now when we stop to think about the fact that these are instructions from Our Lord, and then we ask ourselves, “How often have we practiced this?” for most of us it is probably not very often. What tends to happen for most of us is that if somebody sins against us everyone else hears about it except the person who had actually sinned against us. We most often do not approach the person, or if we do, we approach the person in such a way that we have now sinned against them because there is no charity in the manner in which we do it most often. And so the Lord is simply looking at us and saying, “You have to practice charity. You have to love your neighbor.”
To love your neighbor is to seek the good of that person and want what is best for that individual. And what is going to be best for that individual is to know what it is they have done and to want to overcome it. That is why, in charity, we should point out their faults. This is not something which is going to be an easy task for us. Perhaps if we had an “East Coast personality” it might be a little bit easier for us, but in this part of the country it is not going to come naturally. So it is something that we have to take to prayer, to ask the Lord, first of all, for the courage to be able to face the situation; and secondly, to pray for the grace to do it in charity. What we want is to help people to grow in holiness.
Now there are always the stipulations that we can put on there. Is it worth saying something to everybody? There are some people who just have a personality such that they do not want to grow in holiness. They do not want to do what is right. They have over and over again taken advantage of people, lied, cheated, stolen, walked on people, or whatever it might be, and they do not care. They do not want to do something that is right. At that point, since you already know the person and you know what their situation is, it is probably not worth trying to talk to them about it because you have probably tried before and they are not willing to listen. But assuming there is somebody who does want to grow in holiness, who does want to do what is right, then it is a point of charity to bring these things to them.
In a special way, this holds for people who are married, to deal with one another; for parents in dealing with their children; and for all of us dealing with people who are our friends. One would hope that those people who are close to you have the same kind of mentality as you do, that they are good people who want to grow, and so in charity it is incumbent upon us to help them, just as we would want someone to help us. If we have done something that is wrong without realizing it, hopefully someone would tell us so that we could make amends and we can change our lives. That is what we want to do for others: help them to see what they have done and help them to be able to grow in holiness.
That requires a great deal of charity on our part, not only just in being able to do it but in the manner in which we do this. Therefore, we have to pray so that we will do things truly in the way that would be best for the other person. That is what Our Lord is exhorting us to: to seek always the good of others. This is one of those places where He is asking us to do something that really might almost require a little bit of violence to our own self because we would prefer either to stuff something or talk to everyone else. But He is asking us – out of charity for our neighbor – to die to self, to confront the situation in a calm and charitable manner, and to be able to help the other person for their own good. The Lord is really asking us if we are willing to be His follower because when somebody did something that was wrong the Lord brought it up to them. He is simply asking that we would do the same. After all, He tells us in other places, if we do good to those who are good to us what can we say about that? The pagans and the tax collectors do the same. There is no credit to us if we are acting just like the pagans do. The Lord is asking us to act in a Christian manner, which should surpass what a pagan does by leaps and bounds. He is asking us, first, to grow in holiness; and secondly, to help others to do the same. When it comes down to it, holiness is really charity; it is that love of God and love of neighbor and truly seeking the good of those around us.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.