Thursday July 29, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier†† Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (1 John 4:7-16)†† Gospel (St. John 11:19-27)
In the first reading today, Saint John tells us about the love of God, and he tells us that love exists in the fact that God has loved us first. The fact that God has loved us means that into our hearts God has infused His own love; therefore, the love that we have to be able to love God and to love one another is the very love of God Himself. That is why Saint John would say, If God has so loved us, we also must love one another. It is because God loves each one, and therefore if God loves each of us, we have an obligation to do the same. How can we hate what God loves? It does not make much sense. And so if God loves us, we in turn need to make sure that, first of all, we are loving God and that we are loving one another, but we also need to recognize the dignity which is ours in that God has given us His own love. It is not something we manufacture, it is not something we can do by ourselves, but rather it is a share in the very love of God Himself.
If this is the case, then we have to look at how God has loved us. We are told that love consists in that God has sent His Son as an expiation for our sins. It is in that that we recognize true love, that God has come into this world in human form, and He suffered for us and He died for us. In that is the fullness and perfection of love. Saint John goes on to tell us that, if we love, Godís love is going to be brought to perfection in us. And if Godís love is brought to perfection in us, it is going to look exactly like the love of Christ. Therefore, if our love is Godís love in us, and Godís love in us is demonstrated through the suffering and death of Our Lord, and His love will be brought to perfection in us, then the perfection of love in us is going to be demonstrated through suffering and through a willingness to die to self in order to live for God and for others. It is exactly what Our Lord tells us, that only those who will lose their life will save it. Those who are willing to die to self will be able to have new life in God.
This is precisely what Martha came to understand. Martha, of course, gets kind of a bad rap because of the scene which took place when she was serving and Mary was sitting at the Lordís feet. She was chastised by the Lord, but now we see Martha in a different light. She comes to Our Lord in love. She is willing to recognize Who He is and make that act of faith, but in that act of faith she is blessed because she has come to the point of being able to accept the love of God and she has come to the point also of being able to acknowledge the fullness of the truth of Who Jesus is. After being told that her brother will rise and that Jesus Himself is the Resurrection and the Life, she is asked by the Lord, Do you believe this? and she is the one to be able to make that act of faith: Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, He Who is to come into this world. It is precisely because of that act of faith that she is able to unite herself with the suffering of Christ. She is able now to love, where before she was being selfish. She no longer is looking out only for herself. Even though she would have liked to have had her brother restored and she was able to come to Our Lord and say, If You had been here, my brother would not have died, she was not asking the Lord to necessarily bring her brother back; she was willing to accept Godís Will. And it was because she was willing to let go, because she was willing to do whatever God wanted, that she received her brother in return. But more than receiving her brother, she received the gift of Godís love because she was willing to put aside herself, she was willing to get any kind of selfish inclinations out of the way, and therefore her heart was open to be able to receive the love that Our Lord wanted to give to her.
We too have to open our hearts to Christ, but that means we have to get out of the way. We have to allow Him to be able to love us. As much as we want to be able to love God, which we have to do, we can never initiate love; we can only respond to it. That means we have to be able to accept the love of God first and then we respond in like kind. And if we want that love to be brought to perfection, we have to get out of the way; we have to die to self so that we can live for God. That dying to self in order to live for God means to be able, first of all, to accept Godís Will in our lives, and secondly, it means being willing to go to Calvary with Christ, to take up our cross daily, to follow Him, to be crucified with Him, to share in His suffering and His death so as to share in His resurrection and His life. That is the perfection of love: to give ourselves for the sake of others. That is the call God is giving us. That is the perfection of love. We see it, certainly, first and foremost in Our Lord, but a person like Martha gives to us the greatest hope that we who, in our selfishness, come to the Lord are even able to overcome that selfishness and get to the point of making a pure act of faith; and in so doing to get out of the way and allow Our Lord to work in us, to live in us, to love in us, so that we in turn will love God and one another with the very love of God which He Himself has poured forth into our hearts.
*† This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.