Tuesday June 22, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (2 Kings 19:9b-11, 14-21, 31-35a, 36)
Gospel (St. Matthew 7:6, 12-14)
In the first reading today, we hear about Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, who over a period of several years had gone from city to city (in that time the cities were their own little kingdoms) and had completely destroyed them, one after the next. He surrounded them, built up siege works against them, and then completely destroyed them, allowing no one to live. And now he had come to Jerusalem and surrounded it. That is what we heard about, and the taunts that he leveled against Jerusalem and against the Lord. But then we see the response of Hezekiah, the king of Israel, and he goes to the Lord and he prays. He acknowledges that all of these others were allowed to be destroyed because they were relying on their little gods who were not, of course, gods at all, but they were wood or gold or silver, the work of human hands. Yet, at the same time, we also see that the Lord allowed Jerusalem to be put to siege at other times. That was because of the infidelity of the people. Hezekiah, out of all the kings of Israel, was one of the three kings in all of Israel’s history who was decent. There was David and Hezekiah and Josiah; those are the three kings that were at all any good of all the kings of Israel. And so, because Hezekiah was trying to be faithful to the Lord, the Lord heard his prayer. And yesterday, we heard that the Lord allowed the people to be put into exile precisely because they did not have faith in God.
The Lord then, in the Gospel reading today, tells us that the way that leads to life is narrow, rough, and there are very few who are on it. But the way that leads to perdition, He tells us, is wide, easy, smooth, and there are many who are walking on it. If you look around in our society today, you are going to see the same thing. There are lots of people who are on the road that is going to lead them to eternal condemnation, and the reason is because it is easy, it is the human way. We even have Christian people who want to believe that this is all that is necessary: “Believe that Jesus is your Lord and Savior, and you’re going straight to heaven.” Nowhere in Scripture does it say that or even suggest it, but that is the easy way. It is a lot more fun than doing it the way the saints have done it, that is, to suffer with the Lord, to take up one’s cross and walk with Him to Calvary, to have to be crucified with Christ in order to rise with Him. That is not very fun, it is not very easy, and people do not like to listen to it. So if we can guarantee salvation by a simple act of generic belief – “Since Jesus died for my sins, I’m going straight to heaven” – well, that is a lot more palatable for most people, and the devil laughs all the way home because these are unfortunate souls, many of whom think that they can continue to commit whatever sins they want and they can go straight to heaven.
There are certainly many good people among those who believe that and are trying to live good lives, and God alone will be the one to judge. But, again, we need to look objectively at the situation to see that this is not the way that is going to lead to eternal salvation. And we have to be able to say, then, if that is the case, while it is true that those people can be saved, they will be judged based on what they know and what it is that they have done. When we know that the road is narrow, when we know that the gate which leads into eternity is very small, we have to enter through that way and that means to take up the cross. It means to have that same kind of faith that we see in Hezekiah, who turned to the Lord and was saved because of his faith in God. We have to have that same kind of faith in Our Lord.
Now the time that Jerusalem was sacked before and the people went into exile, there certainly were many faithful people there; but God allowed the good to suffer with the evil in order to bring about a greater holiness for those people and in order to make reparation for the sins of the others. So when we look around our society today and we see the thousands upon thousands of Christians who have abandoned their faith and have become pagan or nothing at all, we have to realize that God is not going to tolerate this forever. The killing of babies, the contraception, the destruction of marriage, all of the problems that we are dealing with in society and in the Church, the day is coming when the good will suffer with the evil. But those who are going to do what is right will do exactly what Hezekiah did and they will turn to the Lord. They will trust Him no matter what happens. And they will know that the words of the Lord are written in their hearts and on their minds, that they have to take up their cross, that they have to walk on that rough and narrow way; but they will also know that it is precisely through those means that they are walking along the road to salvation provided that they continue to pray and continue to trust, that they do not despair, that they do not give up even when it looks dark and hopeless. In the midst of it all, the Lord is right there. Imagine Hezekiah surrounded by a couple of hundred thousand soldiers who had destroyed every place to which they had gone, and he put his faith in God. We have nothing to fear because we have Christ and we have His promises and we see the way that He Himself has walked. Saint Peter reminds us that He has left us an example to follow in His footsteps.
So we are not going to take the easy way to heaven – because there is no easy way to heaven. If we are going to be able to make it to heaven, it is first and foremost to reject the ways and the lies that Satan is telling us – that we can sin and go to heaven too, that we can indulge ourselves and it is not going to be a problem, that we do not really need to pray, that we can do whatever we want, that we can be worldly and we can still go to heaven. I can assure you, in heaven there will be no TV sets, there will be no boom boxes, there will be no filth that our society is presenting, and if we think we can indulge ourselves in these things now and still go to heaven, we are badly mistaken. The way to heaven is rough and it is narrow and few they are who are on it. The invitation is there for each one of us to take up our cross daily, to follow in the footsteps of Our Lord, to live according to His example, and walk His path that leads to one place – and that is Calvary – and through Calvary to heaven.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.