Friday October 31, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Romans 9:1-5) Gospel (St. Luke 14:1-6)
Our Lord tells us that the greatest commandment in the law is to love God and the second greatest commandment is to love one’s neighbor as oneself. This, of course, is the greatest challenge in our lives. Yet what we see in Saint Paul is such an incredible love for the people of Israel that he would say something that sounds completely foreign to the way that most people would think. He says, “I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh.” He desires their salvation so much that he is willing to say, “If it were possible, I myself would be willing even to be cut off from Christ, to be cast into hell, in order that they would be saved.” Now, he makes it clear: “If I could…” He is not saying this is what he wants to do, but he is saying that his love for the people is so great that he desires their salvation at any cost.
I think that any parent would understand that same sentiment when they think about their own children. How much you desire the salvation of your children, and if it were possible you yourself would even give up your place in heaven in order for your children to get there. Again, that is not going to be a possibility; you cannot barter with God that way. The devil, on the other hand, do not try to do that because he will take both of you down. But it is a matter of the kind of love we have to have.
When he looks at the Jewish people and he recognizes, as he points out, that theirs is the adoption, the glory, the covenant, the giving of the law, the prophets, the worship, the promises, the patriarchs, and from them comes Christ according to the flesh – they are God’s chosen people – he desires that the people of Israel would embrace the fullness of truth. They already have what God revealed according to the old covenant, but they do not have the fullness of the truth. Saint Paul wants them to know the fullness of what God has for them. We too have the same issue that we now have the fullness of truth. But how many people have fallen away? Not only from our own Catholic faith (in our own generation, that is), but how many Protestant people have fallen away from the fullness of the truth over the last 450 years? We should have that same kind of desire that all would be brought into the Mystical Body of Christ.
Now Saint Paul tells us that the day will come when there will be a mass conversion of the Jews. That is going to be one of the signs of the coming of Christ. So people can ask, “Is it the end of the world yet?” All you have to do is say, “Has there been a mass conversion of the Jews to the Catholic faith yet?” No, so we do not assume that Christ is coming right around the corner yet. But we need to pray for that because it is beginning to happen. There are many Jewish people who have converted to Catholicism and they have already set up some groups to help facilitate the conversion of the Jews. But we also need to bring the Christians back home, and that is happening. Every year there are hundreds of Protestant ministers – not just individuals in the pew, but Protestant ministers – who are converting to Catholicism, hundreds of them every year because they are recognizing the fullness of the truth. And, of course, many of them are bringing the people with them. So you can see the movement that is happening.
The amazing thing about all this is that it is very obviously one hundred percent God! If one were to look at it and say, “Well, if the Church were riding high and there were all kinds of fancy things and everything looked great, yes, we could understand why people would want to be part of the Church for the wrong reason.” When the Church is in the news almost every day for unfortunate things; they have torn out everything beautiful in most churches so that they look like a barn; and there is hardly anything going on in some of these places that you can tell is Catholic; why would anyone want to become Catholic? Because God is placing on their hearts that this is where the fullness of truth is, and it requires a great act of faith on their part to say, “Yes, even though externally it does not look so impressive, this is where the fullness of truth subsists and that is where I want to be.”
Our part is to pray for them because we need to be laying the spiritual foundation to bring these folks home. That love of God, which therefore will desire the salvation of all, and the love of neighbor, which says, “I will do whatever I can to help facilitate bringing people to Christ,” will bring us even to the point where Saint Paul would say, “If it were possible, I myself would even want to be accursed and cut off from Christ so that others would be joined to Him.” In other words, to be able to say, “If hundreds, if not thousands or millions, would come to Christ and I would go to hell for that purpose, and there would be one in hell instead of millions, that sounds like the better deal.” Now our own salvation has to come first. It would do us no good to be cut off from Christ where we cannot pray for people and we cannot help them. So, again, that is not an option. But it is simply to say to look at the disposition of soul that Saint Paul had, the love he had in his heart that he would be willing to say that he himself would be willing to be cut off so they could be joined.
But in God’s Providence, He wants all of us to be joined, united to Him in Christ. And so since He has given us this beautiful gift to be united to Himself in Christ, we now have the obligation to pray that many more will receive the same gift, that those who do not know Christ or those who do not have the fullness of truth will be given the grace to recognize where the fullness of truth subsists, and that they would have the courage and the grace to say “yes” to Christ and to come to the fullness of the truth, to be one with Him in this world and therefore to be with Him in the fullness of truth forever.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.