Friday October 17, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Romans 4:1-8) Gospel (St. Luke 12:1-7)
Our Lord tells us in the Gospel reading that we are not to fear the one who can kill the body only, but the one rather who can kill the body and cast the soul into Gehenna. When we think about what He is telling us, it is a precise pattern that we have to see, that in the Crucifixion of Our Lord we have a situation where the body was killed and yet that is all Satan had the power to do; and because that was allowed, when Jesus rose from the dead, His body was resurrected, glorified, reunited with His glorified soul, and Satan had absolutely no power over Him. Death has no power over Him and it is in this that Satan is crushed.
That is the pattern Adam should have used right from the beginning. If, when Satan walked into the Garden of Eden, Adam would have done what Jesus did (which is why Jesus did what He did), Adam would have gone to the tree of life, eaten of the tree, and then taken on Satan. Satan would have killed him and he would have risen glorious. He would have crushed Satan and all of his offspring after that would have been in great shape. Well, we know the choice that Adam made; it is not the way it worked.
But for us to be able to look at that and really be able to accept it, that is the faith Saint Paul is talking about in the first reading today, because everything in us always look towards the preservation of the self. That is just natural and there is nothing wrong with that, but faith can even overcome our natural tendencies. When we look at the martyrs, they rejoiced that they had the opportunity to be martyred for Christ. That is not something which is merely on the natural level, but rather it is something which is purely the grace of God, to be able to look death in the face, to desire it, to rejoice in it, and out of faith to be able to die for Christ. But these are souls who knew fully well that if their body died their soul would live with God forever and that their body would rise again from the dead and that it was their blood that was going to quench the fire of Satan and that he would have no power over them.
All we have to do is stop, think reasonably for a moment, and say, “You know what? The body is going to die anyway. The soul is going to live forever, but the body is going to die anyway. So what difference does it make when it happens?” We can wait until we are 90 years old and in bad shape, then the body dies if that is what God wants. My way of looking at it is the goal is heaven, why prolong this? Get out as soon as you can. As long as you are in the state of grace and in good shape, ready to go home, why wait? The soul is what is most important. Your body will be reunited with your soul and will live forever, and it is going to die anyway in this world.
So why do we make such an issue over the idea of what would happen if someone wanted to take our life for Christ? We should be lining up, taking numbers, trying to be the first one in line because we would have the opportunity to go immediately to heaven. Remember, if someone is a martyr there is no Purgatory – it is a straight shot to heaven. So not only does God give you the grace to be able to accept the martyrdom and rejoice in it, but then you totally bypass Purgatory. There is absolutely nothing that is a negative in this equation except our fear, which does not make any sense because what we are basically saying is that we would rather stay alive in this world for however many years we might be able to rather than go to heaven. It does not make sense.
When we look at what Saint Paul is talking about, that their faith (speaking of Abraham, but also all of those whose sins are forgiven, and so on) is credited to them as righteousness, they did not do anything themselves; they simply cooperated with God; they believed Him. If we believe in God’s promise that our bodies will rise from the dead to be reunited with the soul, then we have nothing to fear. It is exactly what Jesus told us: Do not fear the one who can kill the body and do nothing else; fear only the one who after killing the body can cast the soul into hell. Now the one who can do that is ourselves. It is our choice whether we are going to be in the state of grace or the state of mortal sin. And so we have to make that choice. Is our faith such that we are seeking the forgiveness of our sins? Is our faith such that we have complete confidence in the promises of Christ? Or is our faith such that we believe only in ourselves and in what we can see and feel in this world, and therefore we are not concerned about the next life but only about this one? The latter is going to lead us right to Gehenna; the former will lead us to heaven.
So we need to check our own faith and make sure that it is in the right place. Then if we can look at the idea that we could perhaps be a martyr if the opportunity were offered and if we find ourselves desiring to run the other way, we need to pray and ask God for that faith, for that grace to really, truly believe in what it is that He has promised. As the Saint for today, Saint Ignatius of Antioch, said as he was on his way to martyrdom, “Now finally I can be a true disciple of Christ, if only I can offer my life for Him.” He saw that as the beginning of true discipleship, not as the end of it. So for us, it is not that martyrdom is being offered right now, but we have to be ready and we have to look at it as a real possibility. What would our response be? Would our faith be credited as righteousness? Or would our cowardice condemn us? That is really what it comes down to. Look at the promises of Jesus – and believe.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.