Tuesday March 9, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Second Week of Lent
Reading (Isaiah 1:10, 16-20) Gospel (St. Matthew 23:1-12)
In the first reading today as the prophet Isaiah begins by saying, Hear the word of the Lord, princes of Sodom! Listen to the instruction of your God, people of Gomorrah! we have to be very clear, first of all, that Sodom and Gomorrah by this point had been destroyed for hundreds and hundreds of years. It is not like there were two places on the face of the earth anymore called “Sodom” and “Gomorrah”; but rather as examples of the worst kind of sin, this was the title that was used to demonstrate to Israel the gravity of her sins.
Well, if we look at our situation today as we have rampant problems in America with the grossest forms of impurity – we now have judges declaring that it is okay for people of the same sex to be getting married; we have all kinds of difficulties going on in America as we try to justify every kind of unfortunate action – we are the ones who would have to say, “Sodom and Gomorrah live right here in America.” And how many people, getting caught up in the lie, are running around saying, “Well, I can’t be the one to judge; I don’t want to discriminate.” It is a bunch of nonsense. We have to be able to look at what the truth is and we have to be very clear about it. But what happens is we wind up giving in. Not that we support, necessarily, what is being done; but we do not oppose it either. These are the ones about which Our Lord says, Be either hot or cold, or I will spew you out of My mouth, because we refuse to stand up for the truth. The Lord desires that we would be upright, and that is exactly what He is expecting of us. But instead, if we want to waffle and if we want to play a little game, we are going to be held responsible on the Day of Judgment for not doing what is right, for not standing up for God.
Now it does not matter what it is that we have done, Our Lord tells us that though our sins be as scarlet they will become white as snow, though they be crimson red they may become white as wool. But there is one condition to that, He says, “If you are willing, and obey…” That is what is required: if we are willing, and obey. Otherwise, what happens is we become just like the scribes and the Pharisees that Jesus talks about. They like to put heavy loads on other people’s shoulders and will not lift a finger to help them. They perform all kinds of works to be seen. We wind up doing all kinds of external things to make ourselves look a certain way. They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels. Well, we would just say that we put on more stuff. We wear more medals and make ourselves look real religious so that people will be able to see what we are doing. We love places of honor at banquets and at gatherings and at marketplaces and salutations. Yet if we are not living what it is that we are projecting onto people, we are hypocrites. It does not matter how many medals or crucifixes we put on, it does not matter what kind of presentation we want to make, if it is not real, what difference does it make? Well, in fact, it makes a huge difference because again we are putting up a façade at Our Lord’s expense. There is certainly nothing wrong with wearing crucifixes and medals and presenting ourselves in a certain way – as long as we are trying to live it; otherwise, we become just mere and simple hypocrites who are trying to present ourselves one way but we do not live it.
So we have to be striving for that virtue to try to imitate Jesus and Mary, to live according to their way. That is what Our Lord is looking for: to be humble, to be obedient, to be seeking the Will of God, and to be willing to let our own ideas go so that we will be able to do what He wants. That is what He is looking for. Otherwise, if we exalt ourselves even by trying to make ourselves look holy, we are going to be humbled. But if we humble ourselves, that is, present the truth, then we are going to be exalted. So we need to pray. We need to ask God to show us our sinfulness, to show us our hypocrisy, to show us the places where we are seeking ourselves and our own will rather than His. We need to ask, “Show me where my scarlet sins, my crimson red actions are standing between You and me,” so that we can get them confessed, we can change our lives, and we can make all of that white as snow; so that it will not just be presenting an exterior façade of being holy or anything else, but that it will be real; so that we will change our lives to be in accordance with the Will of God; and so that what is inside and what is outside then will be the same. There will be a true holiness, there will be a true compassion and charity, and there will be true humility. We will be willing and we will obey, seeking to be humble so that God can exalt us rather than seeking to exalt ourselves in whatever form, because otherwise we will be humbled. So remember that one condition: if we are willing, and obey.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.