February 26, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Thursday After Ash Wednesday
Reading (Deuteronomy 30:15-20) Gospel (St. Luke 9:22-25)
In the first reading, Moses says to the people that he places before them life and death, a blessing and a curse. He tells them, of course, to choose life. But the question is what exactly is that life? He tells us it is to be obedient to the commandments and the statutes of the Lord, but Jesus tells us in the Gospel exactly what choosing life means. It means choosing death, death to one’s self. And so He says that anyone who would save his life will lose it, but anyone who will lose his life for the sake of Christ and for the Gospel will save it.
It is, once again, one of those ironies in the spiritual life, that in order to have life we must choose death, and if we want to choose this life then we are choosing death. So we have to make sure that we are clear on what it is that we are doing. If we want the fullness of life that God offers, it is to choose the Cross. If we want to choose to look out for ourselves, to make sure that what we want is all in order and taken care of – that is, that we have more stuff and more ease and more pleasure and all the other things – then we have chosen a curse. And the curse is death. We may have “life” in this life, but we are choosing eternal condemnation. We are choosing eternal death, if that is the way we choose to go, because we are focused on ourselves and not on God. If, on the other hand, we are willing to take up our cross daily and follow in the footsteps of Our Lord, then we are choosing life because the Cross is the tree of life and we are choosing to live our lives according to the commandments, statutes, and decrees of God, Who tells us that we are to love God with our whole heart and soul and strength, that we are to die to ourselves, that we are to live for God and for others. That is the life the Lord lays out before us. That is the life we are to choose.
So as we begin this journey of Lent, that is precisely what God places before us. It is the mortification of the senses. It is the penances. It is a dying to self, dying to sinfulness, dying to the selfishness so that we can live for God. That is what is being placed before us. We have that choice right now and over the next forty days. We can choose to give up what we have taken on because our senses are screaming at us, calling us names, and telling us that they want to be fed, that they want whatever pleasure or whatever it is they are accustomed to and we have chosen not to give it to them. And then we have the other side: choosing God. If we choose to give into our senses – to give up the penances, to give up the mortifications – then we have chosen death, we have chosen the self, we have chosen to give in instead of carrying the cross, and we have chosen to drop the cross so that we could walk the way that we wanted to.
If we are going to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, it is not only to take the cross upon our shoulders, but it is to take it all the way to Calvary; it is to be crucified on the cross so that we will die to self, that we will put the passions to death so that all that remains is love – love for God and love for neighbor. To choose the way of love is to choose life, the fullness of life here and the fullness of life for eternity. That is the life that is being placed before us. That is the choice we have to make: life or death, the blessing or the curse. The irony in the spiritual life always is that it seems to be just the opposite, and so it is. To choose life is to choose the cross, to choose to die to self in order to have true and full life. So that is what is being placed before us. Choose life that you may have a long life, eternal life with Jesus Christ by enduring the cross and sharing in the glory.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.