January 5, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Monday After Epiphany
Reading (1 John 3:22-4:6) Gospel (St. Matthew 4:12-17, 23-25)
Saint John, in the first reading, tells us that God has given us a commandment; and the commandment, he tells us, is that we are to believe in the Name of His Son Jesus Christ and to love one another just as He commanded us. When we look at the commandment of Christ, it is to love one another as we have been loved by Him, which means to love in a self-sacrificing manner, to look at the crucifix and to be able to see how He loved us. Of course, in this holy season, we can also look at the manger and be able to see once again the way that He loved us. He gave everything; He sacrificed it all for us. He was willing to come into this world as one of us, to be born in the most humble of conditions, and to die in the most humble of conditions.
So when we consider His love for us and that we are first and foremost to believe in Him, which is the first critical point, it is to believe as we have spoken many times not only in Who He is but in what He is all about. That is, it is not enough to believe at an arm’s distance and say, “Well, I guess I can believe that Jesus is God.” So what? What difference does that make in our lives? We have to remember, as Saint James makes very clear, that even the devils believe and they tremble, but that does not get them out of hell. And so to believe in the Name of God’s only Son is to believe in the fullness of the Person of Jesus Christ – that He is the fullness of truth, that He is the way, that He is the life – and then we are to love as He has commanded us to love, which is to love one another and to love Him as He has loved us, to give ourselves entirely as He has given Himself to us, which is really the same thing as saying to believe wholly in Who He is, to have faith in Him, because to have that faith in Him is to believe everything that He is and that He teaches.
On one level, it is as simple as can be. He is not asking anything that is beyond our ability to do, but what He is asking, because of our sinful nature, is fairly heroic on our part. To die to self does not come naturally to any one of us; to live for others is not an easy thing for us either. In fact, even as much as we try sometimes to live for others, if we really dissect things that we do, we are probably going to find that in our attempt to live for others we are really seeking the self anyway. Somewhere underneath there, there is almost always going to be some element of selfishness. And so we realize that we are not loving the way that we have been commanded to love. It is to get the self out of the way and to be able to put ourselves at the service of others, to spend our lives for others, or, as Saint Paul says, “to be poured out like a libation” so that nothing is left of the self. When nothing is left of the self then it can be filled up with Jesus Himself, and then we can truly live the life of Christ.
That is possible only when we are already striving to live the life of Christ, that is, doing everything we can to grow in holiness and to unite ourselves with Him so that He can live in us and through us. It is to try to get ourselves out of the way and to love Him, first and foremost; and then, flowing from our love for Him, to love one another. That is our call. That is the commandment that Our Lord has given us and it is reiterated here by Saint John. It is made exceedingly clear for us. When it all boils down, it is two things: Believe in Jesus Christ, that is, the fullness of Jesus Christ (that includes the Church He founded and all that She teaches, because the Church is Jesus Christ) and love. That is all it comes down to. Or, Saint Augustine makes it even more easy as he says, “Love, and do what you will,” because love never does what is wrong. Love always seeks the truth and it always seeks what is best. Therefore, if we just simply focus on the love, to love as we have been loved, everything else will fall into place. But it still means to get the self out of the way and to love as we have been commanded.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.