February 22, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I (1 Samuel 26:2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-23)
Reading II (1 Corinthians 15:45-49)
Gospel (St. Luke 6:27-38)
In the Gospel reading today, Our Lord tells us that we are to be as children of our heavenly Father. He tells us that we are to be merciful as our heavenly Father is merciful. He tells us that we are to love our enemies. He tells us that we are to lend to those in need, that we are to give without expecting anything in return, that we are to stop judging and to stop condemning, that we are to show mercy to others. When we stop to think about these words, we really need to ask ourselves how well we are living them. We must realize that as Catholic people we are going to be held to a far higher accountability than anyone else in the world. And the Lord is going to expect, on the day that we stand before Him, that we will have put His words into action.
Now when we think about the way most of us tend to do things, we do exactly what Jesus tells us even pagans will do. We love those who love us, we give to those that we would expect a return from, but we are not really willing to do much beyond that. We have become just like the pagans and we really need to ask ourselves, “What is it that would set us apart?” What would demonstrate to the world that you are Catholic? How would anyone know? If someone in your life, whether that be in your neighborhood or at work, were to stand up and give a talk about you, would the first thing out of their mouth about you be your charity? I do not mean giving to the poor; I mean the charity, the kindness, and the love you show to all of those around you. How do you treat those who do not like you? How do you treat those who slander you, who destroy your reputation, who try to undermine everything that you are doing? Jesus tells us we have to love them and we have to pray for them.
If we really take inventory of ourselves, we can ask ourselves, “When is the last time that we prayed for somebody who hates our guts? When is the last time we gossiped about them?” If we are honest, I suspect most of us will probably be able to answer the latter far easier than the former. How about judging others? It is one of our favorite pastimes. We size people up and we tear them down; we gossip about them; we detract; we slander; we give into all kinds of things. The Lord tells us that we are not supposed to be doing these things, and He tells us that the measure with which we measure to others is the measure that is going to be used against us. So, again, look into your heart and ask yourself, “Do I give people the benefit of the doubt? Do I treat them with kindness, with charity?” If so, then we can expect on the Day of Judgment that that is exactly what God is going to do with us. On the other hand, “Do I judge people? Do I tear them down? Do I slander them? Do I destroy their reputations? Do I condemn them?” Then we can assume on the Day of Judgment that that is the way Our Lord will treat us. He made very clear that we are to treat others the way that we would want them to treat us – not the way they do treat us – the way we would want them to treat us. If we are going to really, truly live our faith, it is to be able to do it the way Jesus did. He died for those who hated Him, He died for those who killed Him, and He did not condemn a single one of them. That is the example we are to follow.
Now this is not something that is easy for us to do. When we read what Saint Paul talks about in the second reading about the first Adam and the second Adam, He tells us, regarding our own selves, that what is natural comes first and what is spiritual comes second. It is natural for us, unfortunately, to judge, to condemn, to gossip, to refuse to forgive. But we are not operating merely on the natural level. When we read those words of the Gospel today, we are tempted to say, “It’s not possible. Who could do what Our Lord is asking us to do: to become like God?” Why do you think it is not possible? You are already made in His image and likeness, and in Baptism you have been raised to a divine level of acting and being and given a share in the divine nature itself. If you are in the state of grace, the Holy Trinity dwells within you. That means you can literally act in a godly manner, in a divine way and on a divine level. It is not something which is beyond any one of us. It does not mean it is going to be easy, but Our Lord did not ask us to do what is easy because even the pagans will do what is simple and what comes naturally to them. The Lord is asking us to operate in a supernatural way, in a spiritual way.
So we really need to look at our spiritual lives and ask ourselves how much time we set aside everyday for God. As we prepare for Lent, look at that Gospel reading and ask yourself, “What am I planning on doing for Lent? The usual? Every year I give up candy, pop, potato chips, chocolate,” whatever it might be. If that is the case, I challenge you to look very seriously at your life and ask yourself what that has done for you. What virtue have you developed because you gave up candy bars? What holiness has come from giving up pop? My suspicion is not a lot. My recommendation, as we look forward to Lent, is while it is certainly a good thing to deprive ourselves of that which we like, it is a far greater way of doing things to remove from our life those things which are offensive to God.
Now this cannot be done if we do not have a prayer life. So if you look at your life and you say, “I really do not have much time everyday for prayer,” there is your Lenten penance. Set aside at least a half hour a day for God, and then look at one area of sin, just one, whatever it might be. Look at the Gospel again. Do you fail to be merciful? Do you fail to forgive? Do you judge? Do you condemn? Do you gossip? Do you slander? Do you detract? What is it that you have trouble with? Then every day during Lent, look at that one area in prayer. Ask yourself, “How can I improve in this area in my life?” Look back over the day and ask yourself, “Where have I fallen in this area? How could I have done it better? How could I have done it differently?” I can guarantee you that if you do that every single day for the time of Lent, by the time Easter comes, you will have begun in a very powerful way to develop a virtue in that one area. When you get that fairly well in order, you can begin on the second one. But just take them one at a time because otherwise you will take on too much and you will not get anywhere with anything.
There is another thing that the readings point out for us today and something that we all need to be so careful of in this day and age. In the first reading, we see David going right into the camp of the man who is trying to kill him, and he refuses to kill his enemy because he is the Lord’s anointed. He says straight out, “Who can touch the Lord’s anointed and not be punished?” Now I challenge you to think about what we have all said regarding priests and bishops, the Lord’s anointed. I am not going to stand here and try to suggest that most priests and bishops are doing what they are supposed to, but they are the Lord’s anointed. It is not for us to judge them or condemn them; it is for the Lord to handle that.
Let me tell you a true story. There is a priest of whom I am aware, not too terribly far from here, who several years ago stood up in front of his parish and prayed an unbelievable prayer. In the general intercessions, he prayed literally “for those courageous pro-choice people that they will continue their fight for women’s rights”. In essence, here is a Roman Catholic priest praying that the slaughter of innocent babies will continue in America. He was assigned to a new parish, and the people of that parish, rather than leaving and rather than trashing him, decided to begin praying for him. Today that particular parish has adoration of the Blessed Sacrament perpetually, and that particular priest is in front of the Blessed Sacrament for several hours a day because of the prayers of his people, because they recognized that he was the Lord’s anointed and they prayed for him rather than condemning him. That does not mean they did not recognize that what he was doing was not right; they certainly understood that. They condemned the sin but not the sinner. It is a lesson each and every one of us needs to learn. If we do not like what the priests and bishops are doing, when was the last time we prayed for them?
We need to look very seriously at what it is that we are doing. We are pretty good at looking very seriously at what everybody else is doing. The saints tell us something that we should think about as we begin Lent. That is, we need to learn to excuse others and accuse ourselves. Most of us are quite professional at accusing others and excusing ourselves. We have every reason in the book to be able to explain why it was okay for us to do what we did – even though we know it was wrong. If we would begin to extend that toward others, think how different our lives would be. That is exactly what Our Lord is asking of us: to be merciful as our heavenly Father is merciful, to show ourselves to be true children of our heavenly Father, to operate in a supernatural and divine mode, to become spiritual people and no longer live merely on the natural level, to stop being like the pagans and to become like Christ. That is the challenge of our lives. That is what Lent is all about. It is not just to do some little perfunctory thing, but rather the idea of Lent is to change our lives forever. If we look back over our lives and realize that the little penances we have done over and over and over again have really done nothing to change our lives, then may I recommend that you give up that particular penance and do something that will actually make a difference in your life to change you to become like Christ, to no longer live merely on the natural level, but to become spiritual persons who are true children of their heavenly Father.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.