Wednesday June 16, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (2 Kings 2:1, 6-14) Gospel (St. Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18)
Our Lord, in the Gospel reading today, is instructing us on a point which to most of us I suspect would seem pretty obvious and yet is one which is critically important, and that is to make sure that the motive for which we are doing good works is proper. He tells us, for instance, to make sure we are not doing things in order for others to see. That is a very subtle thing that can happen to us. Some people, of course, perform things specifically so that others can see them; it is not subtle at all. But, for most of us, the selfishness creeps in very easily and very subtly.
And so we can think about some of the things we do that are the greatest acts of charity toward others, and if we really analyze it carefully enough, underneath there someplace we are probably going to find some kind of selfishness. Maybe we are doing it so we will be noticed. Maybe we are doing it so people will think well of us. Maybe we do it so we can get promoted. Maybe we do it so that somebody will repay us or thank us or whatever it might be. We all know from experience that we can start out with the best motive in the world, and within minutes (if we can last that long) we begin thinking things like “Well, I hope they notice that I’m doing this for them” or “They better take note of this” or “They better say ‘thank you’” or whatever it might be. That is precisely where we recognize the selfishness that creeps in, and it does not take long before that becomes almost the sole motive for some of us. It starts out, perhaps, in a very good way, and it very quickly changes into something that is not so good.
But if we are simply doing things with a pure heart (that is, doing things solely for the love of God and the love of neighbor) then God, Who sees exactly what we are doing, is going to bless us. Now Our Lord makes very clear that God is going to repay us, but that is not the reason why we are doing it. That is the important thing we have to see. If we are looking at this and saying, “Well, the reason I’m doing this is because I want to get God’s blessing, because I want more grace, because I want to receive the merit (or the indulgence or whatever it might be),” those are good motives, but they are imperfect motives. They are selfish motives. What we need to be doing is simply saying, “I’m just here to love God.” God is just, and He is going to repay you; in fact, He will be far more generous toward you than you are to Him. But if the reason you are doing it is to receive God’s generosity then you are doing it for the wrong reason. It is still something which is selfish.
So that is the thing we need to be able to look at, to look very carefully at why we do what we do. What is the purpose? What is the reason? It needs simply to be for the sake of others, for love of God and love of neighbor, as we have been commanded. We need to die to self. When we die to self, we are going to be willing to do whatever needs to be done.
Look at the first reading today. Elisha is walking with Elijah as Elijah is going to be taken up, and Elisha knew he was going to be taken up. They dropped a lot out of the reading, but there were several places along the way that they stopped and the prophets would come out and say, “Don’t you know that God is going to take your master from you?” Elisha just said, “Be quiet. I know that.” But they walked for miles, and three times along the way Elijah looked at Elisha and said, “Stay here. I have to go beyond the Jordan,” and Elisha would not leave him. He did not stay with him hoping that he was going to get something – that was not the point at all – it was that he was going to be with him. Elijah had been his teacher and his friend, and he was not going to abandon his friend in this last time of his life on earth. So he walked with him miles and miles when he did not have to, but he did it purely out of charity. Then you see the charity returned. Elisha was not looking for anything for himself, but right before Elijah went he looked at Elisha and said, “Ask for whatever I can do for you,” and Elisha received a double portion of the spirit of Elijah.
That is the way God is going to work. Elisha was operating purely out of charity, and because what he had done was out of charity, God repaid him double for the charity that he had shown. So it will be with us. If we do things out of selfish motives, we are not going to get much in return. As the Lord says, “They have already been repaid.” If you are doing it for a selfish reason, do not expect anything from God; you have already gotten your recompense. If we are doing it just simply out of charity – love of God and love of neighbor – then God, Who is just, will repay us manifold. That is the guarantee we have. And so what we have to do is work on purifying our motives, to learn simply to love, to give, to sacrifice ourselves. If we are willing to do that (which is not only what we have been commanded to do but is the example we have from Our Lord) and if we are willing to follow in His footsteps, then God, Who is just, will repay us in the fullness of His love.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.