Wednesday June 23, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (2 Kings 22:8-13; 23:1-3) Gospel (St. Matthew 7:15-20)
In the first reading, we hear about the finding of the book of the law in the temple. This is the Book of Deuteronomy that had been lost when the people went into exile. It had been buried by the priests in the temple at that time so that it would not be destroyed, but, in the meantime, while the people were in exile, they had completely forgotten about it. And, of course, because they had been in exile for a number of years, the generation that had come back had never even heard the words of the Book of Deuteronomy. When he heard the words, the high priest Hilkiah realized what was happening; and when they brought the words to the king, he understood that it was precisely because the people had been disobedient to the word of God that all these things had happened to them. And so he renewed the covenant between God and the people, and promised God once again that the people would follow exactly what God wanted with their whole heart and soul and strength.
Well, when Our Lord came into this world, He told us the exact same thing – except that now He is the covenant. And He told us that it is not merely a matter of following the words in a book but it is about loving. As Saint Augustine would say, “Love, and do what you will.” In other words, if we truly love we will not sin because sin violates another person, where love always seeks what is best for the other person. So, if we truly love we will be doing exactly what God wants us to do. It is not merely following a set of external precepts, but, much more importantly, it is following God Who dwells within our hearts. It is loving Him, and that is exactly what He is looking for.
Our Lord, in the Gospel, tells us that a good tree cannot bear bad fruit. So we can look at ourselves and ask, “What are my fruits? Am I bearing good fruit for the Lord, or am I not? Am I being selfish? Am I being focused in the wrong place? Am I doing things for my own glory? Am I out doing things that are truly sinful, not merely just falling into areas of weakness that I am working on, but willfully giving into things that are bad, violating other people and so on?” If that is the case, then we clearly are not following the covenant with our whole heart and soul and strength because the covenant is simply love: love God and love your neighbor.
Just as Josiah, when he heard the words of the law, brought all the people together and renewed the covenant so that God’s anger would be calmed and that once again the people could live according to the decrees of the Lord, so now we need to look at the same thing to make sure that as we look at our Blessed Lord and we hear His words in the Gospels that we again renew our commitment to Him, that commitment we made when we became members of the covenant, which, you recall, is to reject Satan and all his words and all his empty promises, to live according to the faith in God that we profess at our baptism and in the Creed, and to once again renew our commitment to seek to love God with our whole heart and soul and strength. Not to keep God at an arm’s distance, not to say, “Well, I’ll follow the external precepts, but I don’t really want anything too close here,” but it is to truly open the heart. It is about a relationship with God. It is about loving God with our whole heart and soul and strength; not just doing some external works, but doing the external works because they flow from what is in the heart because we love God. That is what He is looking for.
And so we need, just like the people of old, to renew that commitment. If we are truly going to bear good fruit then we have to be a good tree, meaning that we have to be in Christ, that we have to be bearing His fruit because it is His grace and His life that is at work within us. That is the commitment we have to renew. We have to look at the promises we have made. The people of old realized that they were in trouble specifically because they failed to live according to the promises they had made to God, and we are no different. How often we give into Satan! How often we buy into his lies! How often we give into his empty works and promises! We need to renew the covenant, we need to re-commit ourselves, but it is to commit ourselves entirely. Not just to look at the words and say, “Okay, I’ll do what these words say,” but rather it is to get into the heart and to be able to do exactly what the words mean. It is not just external precepts that we are looking at; it is the interior law, the law for which we are made and the law which will set us free to love God with our whole heart and soul and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.