Thursday March 11, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Second Week of Lent
Reading (Jeremiah 17:5-10) Gospel (St. Luke 16:19-31)
When we hear the words at the beginning of the first reading from the prophet Jeremiah, Cursed is the man who trusts in human beings, that sounds like such an extreme statement that we would be tempted to reject it. But later on in the same reading, we hear the words, More tortuous than all else is the human heart, beyond remedy; who can endure it? Now I do not think we need to look at anyone else except ourselves to be able to understand very well what that means. How many times, when we look into our own hearts, have we done selfish things? How many times have we done things that violate others? How many times have we done exactly the opposite of what we really would want to do, for whatever selfish reason it might be? We begin to see that the human heart is very fickle. Indeed, as the prophet says, it is more tortuous than all else, because once the heart is turned it is very difficult for us to turn it back the way it belongs. And it goes all over the place; in fact, sometimes it is set on destruction rather than on building anyone up.
We see what happens, for instance, in this first reading – and I suspect, again, that none of us needs to look any further than our own selves – when we see this rich man who was dining sumptuously each day and a poor man who was there at his own gate. He walked past him everyday but did not lift a finger to help him. And the arrogance of this man, when he is sitting in hell, to say, “Send Lazarus down to dip his finger in some water and cool my tongue.” He is still totally caught up in himself. You see, one of the things that happens with us unfortunate creatures is that we are never happy. It does not matter if we have a million dollars, we are not going to be happy with that because we have decided we need a bigger house and a fancier car and nicer furniture and more things in our house. So if we got two million dollars, we would look for an even bigger house and an even fancier car and even more junk to put in our house. We are never, ever, ever going to be happy; and, worse than that, we are all caught up in the self.
And what is it that we are doing with what God has given us? Remember that we are going to be held responsible. Whether it is the various talents and gifts that God has given to us, or whether it is the financial resources that God has given us, whatever it might be, the Lord is going to hold us responsible for how we have acted with what He has given. These are not easy things for us to consider because our society tells us, as most societies throughout the world have, that the one who is important is “me”: “After all, this is my talent, this is my money, this is my stuff; therefore I have a right to use it for me.” Certainly, we do – but within reason. We need to ask ourselves very simply, “What would God expect of me with this talent, with this money, with whatever it is that He has given? What is He going to expect? When I stand before Him on the Day of Judgment, what am I going to say to Him?” These are the things that we really need to think about. Certainly, God has given us these things to be able to support our families and to be able to have a reasonable living, but the question is how much we really need. How much is necessary? And how much is really not necessary at all?
When we think about that, consider just how much we are caught up in ourselves. The real tragedy is that the more we get caught up in ourselves, the more wonderful we try to convince ourselves that we are. And so to be able to see just how tortuous the human heart is, we cannot, because we have blinded ourselves to it by telling ourselves that we are just the most wonderful things on the face of the earth. It is a spiraling thing that goes very quickly downward because it just keeps getting deeper and deeper and deeper into the self. And that is exactly what we are supposed to be working against. It is to love God and to love neighbor – not to be caught up in the self. The whole goal is to work against these things within ourselves, to grow in virtue. These are not easy things for us either to hear or to think about, but it is precisely what is necessary if we are going to be able to grow in holiness.
We need to take honest assessment of our own circumstances, look into the depths of our hearts, and ask ourselves, “Where am I caught up in the self? Where am I doing what God wants me to do? Where am I using the resources and talents that God has given me as God would want me to use them?” That is the real question. Are we doing what God wants? He is the One Who has given us the abilities, and we are to use them for His glory and for the sake of others. Are we doing so? If we are putting our trust in other people – or even worse, putting our trust in ourselves – then we are not trusting in God. That is why the person who trusts in other people is cursed, because they did not put their trust in God. No other human person is going to get you to heaven; only God can. And the more that we trust in ourselves, the more we are going to violate the dignity of others, and the more we see how tortuous our own hearts are. That is what God wants changed so that our heart becomes like His: filled with love, filled with compassion, so that it reaches out to others and builds us up in virtue and helps us to grow in holiness until finally we find the fulfillment of everything we have desired, which is not money, not fancier things, but heaven.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.