Wednesday June 30, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Amos 5:14-15, 21-24) Gospel (St. Matthew 8:28-34)
In the Gospel reading today, we hear one of the saddest statements in all of Scripture: The entire town came out to Jesus and they begged Him to leave. What a sad, sad statement! Yet the reality is that things have not changed over 2,000 years of human history because if we are truly going to bring Jesus Christ out into the world, which is what we are supposed to do, people are going to hate what it is that they see. They are going to ridicule it and ultimately they are going to beg that it be taken away from them because they do not want to change their lives, because they do not want anything of true goodness to be present.
Unfortunately, we have to look at the same thing even for ourselves When we compare our own lives with the first reading, we see that the people of Israel were offering burnt offerings, they were offering cereal offerings, they were singing songs to God, and the Lord said, I hate your feasts and I loathe your solemnities; I do not want your sacrifices. They were there all the time, but the problem was that it was external worship without the heart being involved by living out the reality of what their faith was requiring of them. And so the prophet, speaking on God’s behalf, says, Act with justice and then come offer your sacrifice. Then they will be acceptable, when you are truly loving with your heart. This is the point we need to look at because we keep saying that we want Jesus to be in our lives – but we do not want to live the life of Jesus. That is the tragedy of it all. Are we truly loving? Are we being just? Are we truly seeking to do what the Lord wants us to do? Or do we just continue to offer the same sacrifice and say the same prayers without changing our lives?
Now we know that the sacrifice we have is a perfect sacrifice and that it is always acceptable to God because it is the sacrifice of His Son. So there is nothing wrong with the sacrifice, the question has to do with those who are offering the sacrifice. If we want our own sacrifice to be acceptable to God, then it means we have to be living the life that the Lord desires of us, or at least we have to be trying to live that life. That is what He is looking for. Otherwise, what can happen in our own lives even though we can see the extraordinary things that the Lord does, just as He came to the Gadarene territory and healed these two demoniacs rather than rejoicing in the works of God these people wanted Him gone. Well, we know what the Lord has done in our own lives and we have turned our lives to Him (at least to some degree; obviously we would not be here today if that were not the case). But the question is to what degree we have given our lives over to Christ. At what point do we beg Him to leave because it is getting just a little too uncomfortable? That is where we get ourselves into trouble, and that is why, even though we continue to receive Communion and to pray, we do not see the effects in our lives – because we really do not want Him there. Let us just be bluntly honest; that is the reality. We want Him in our lives but we do not want Him to be the center of our lives. We do not want to give our lives over to Him, and therefore we continue to walk along the same path without making a whole lot of progress.
If we really want our sacrifice to be acceptable to God, if we want our prayers to be heard, He makes very clear what we have to do: We have to live the life that we profess. We have to practice justice, we have to practice charity, we have to truly change our lives so that we become another Christ, so that He is living His life in us and through us, and that every single aspect of our lives will be given over to Him. Not just the part that we are comfortable with, not just the place where we decide that it is okay to be a good Catholic in this setting, but in a different setting we are going to lie and cheat and steal and be like everybody else out in the world. That does not work. We are either Catholic or we are not, and if we are going to claim to be Catholic then we better live it. It is only when we are truly living the faith that we profess that our sacrifices and prayers will be truly acceptable to the Lord because then we will not be hypocrites, but rather in the full integrity of our hearts we will have given our lives over to Christ, we will allow Him to be working in us and through us; and since we are living His life, the prayers that we will pray will be His, the sacrifice that we offer is truly His, and we will be perfectly united with that sacrifice. Then our prayers and our sacrifices will be perfectly pleasing to God.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.