August 8, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I (Wisdom 18:6-9) Reading II (Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19)
Gospel (St. Luke 12:32-48)
In the Gospel reading today, the Lord tells us that from those to whom more has been entrusted more is going to be expected. Now when you stop to think about what it is that Our Lord has entrusted to each one of us, we realize that we are among those to whom more has been entrusted. We have been given the fullness of the truth; we have been given the gift of faith; we have been given the seven sacraments; we have been given the Church; we have knowledge of Jesus Christ; we have the Blessed Sacrament. We have been given an immense amount by Our Lord, and He wants something in return. He tells us that He wants us to be vigilant on His arrival, which means that we are being obedient to what it is that He has asked us to do. That means we have to be doing His Will. It means we have to be striving to be saints. When the Lord returns, He wants to find us deep in prayer and He wants to find us living a virtuous life. It is easy to get caught up in the things of the world, especially in our society which has become pagan once again; but even more so, given that is the circumstance, we need to make sure that we are living our faith. What a tragedy for a person who is baptized into Jesus Christ to be living like the pagans. That is not what the Lord would expect.
When we look at the first reading today, we hear how, in the Book of Wisdom, the ancients are extolled for living their faith and offering sacrifice in secret because it was against the law. We can very quickly and easily think about Daniel, as well as Azariah, Hananiah, and Mishael, at the time of the Babylonian exile. These were four young men who were the most intelligent in all of Israel; therefore, they were put to work in Nebuchadnezzar’s royal court. They refused to do what Nebuchadnezzar had asked. He had set up a golden statue of his own self, and any time that a musical instrument was heard, everybody in the area was supposed to bow down to this statue of Nebuchadnezzar. These four Jewish men refused. And when it was found out that they would go home in the afternoon and pray to the Lord, they were arrested. The sentence for not worshiping Nebuchadnezzar as a god was death. When Nebuchadnezzar threatened them, they answered in pretty much the same way that he could put them to death but they were not going to worship anything other than God. So the three young men were thrown into the furnace, and God spared them. Daniel, of course, was tossed into the lions’ den. God spared him too; He did not spare everybody. Nonetheless, they were faithful to God, and it was because of their fidelity, the Book of Wisdom tells us, that the people were able to come home from exile. They had to live in a pagan society, but they still had to live their faith – and so do we.
When you stop to think about what it is that has occurred in the life of each and every one of us, we have made vows to God. Every last one of us here has made vows in Baptism. Most of us have made vows in Confirmation. Many of you have made vows in marriage. Some have made religious vows or been ordained. We are all going to be responsible for what it is that we have promised to God. Now if you think about it and you look at your day-to-day life, just ask yourself, “How much time do I spend every day with God and how much time do I spend doing other things that are not good for my soul?” If you just stop and ask yourself, “How much time everyday do I spend in prayer as compared to how much time I spend everyday gossiping, or backbiting, or tearing people down? How much time do I spend with trash that comes out of the TV or radio or the movies or the video games or whatever it is that are not good for me?” It is perfectly fine to watch or listen to something that is good – good luck finding it; but if you can, that’s fine – but most of the stuff that people are listening to that is coming out of the radio or TV is a violation of your dignity. It tears you down; it does not build you up. We need to make sure we are living our faith, rejecting those things that are pagan, or even worse just plain evil. We need to be living according to the promises, indeed the vows, that we have made to Jesus.
There is not one single person here who will be able to stand before the Lord on the Day of Judgment and say, “I did not know that You expected me to pray everyday. I did not know that You wanted me to be a saint. I did not know that I was supposed to live a virtuous life. I did not know that I shouldn’t be watching filth and listening to trash.” No, we are without excuse because we have been entrusted with much and much is going to be expected of us. None of us is going to be able to stand before God and try to rationalize our way around why we did not do what we knew we were supposed to do. As Saint Paul made very clear in the second reading in his Letter to the Hebrews, we are living in this world as strangers and sojourners. “Even Abraham,” he said, “lived in the Promised Land as a stranger because he was looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland.” And because he had his focus set on God, he said that God was not ashamed to be called his God. Just look at yourself, look at your day-to-day life, and ask yourself, “Would God be ashamed to be known as my God?” Remember when Satan stood before the Lord and he accused Job, and God said, “Have you seen My servant Job?” Would God say that about us to Satan? Or would Satan stand before God and say, “Have you seen my servant? Have you seen the one who is down there doing all the things that I want him to do?” Is that more of who we are? Are we living in this world for God or are we living in this world for ourselves?
Saint Paul talks about the faith we have to have if we are going to live in this world, the faith that allows us to look beyond things to what is unseen but with the knowledge that it is real. We get so caught up in all the things we can see and all the materialism and all the sense things that we lose sight of what is unseen. We are so inundated with the things of the senses that we have lost track of the things of the spirit. We need to get ourselves back on track; we need to have our focus set on God because this is not our homeland. This is not our final goal – we have our citizenship in heaven. We are looking for a place beyond this, and therefore we have to live in this world in such a way that it is evident we are living for something beyond.
The Lord has told us what He expects, and He tells us that He wants us to be vigilant on His arrival. If we are not, He says the judgment is that the one who knew what he was supposed to be doing and chose not to do it will receive a severe beating. He did not say that the judgment of the Master is going to be a fun one: “It’s going to be easy because the Master is merciful, so you have nothing to worry about at all!” No, that is not what He said. If we were to die today and we had to stand before God and we had to answer for what it is that we have done in the body – as Saint Paul tells us is what we are going to do, and Jesus tells us we are going to be judged according to our deeds; the prophets of the Old Testament tell us the same thing – what would we have to answer for? Would we be able to stand confident before the Lord that we have done His work, that we have done His Will? Or are we going to have to listen as the Lord reads down the list of the things that we knew better but we chose to do anyway because the Master was delayed in His return? We decided that it was okay to violate other people’s dignity; we decided that we could immerse ourselves into the unfortunate things of this world – to eat and drink and get drunk, in essence; that is, to be so immersed in the things that are sinful that we are no longer able to see correctly.
Are we living a virtuous life? Are we living our lives for God? Our Lord told us that where our treasure is, there our heart will be also. Are we storing up treasure in this life and putting our heart on that? Or are we putting our treasure in heaven and placing our heart there? You are the only one who can answer that question. Look at your life and ask yourself, “Where is my focus? Where is my emphasis?” We live in this world in a place that is pagan, and it is a great blessing to be doing that because we have an opportunity to really live our faith, to make a choice. When we look at the fact that Our Lord is delayed in coming, when we look at the fact that He is giving us an opportunity to live in a neopagan world, we have to see this as a great blessing because He is giving to us an opportunity to make a choice in love. If we lived in a truly Catholic place, it would be easy because everybody else would be doing the same thing; but now we have an opportunity to really find out where our faith is, to find out how much we really love Our Lord. We are not doing what is right because of fear, because if the Lord returns and finds us doing what is wrong we are in trouble (that is the wrong reason for doing the right thing), but rather to be able to say, “You know, I could go out and do those things that are wrong. I could live my life like a whole bunch of other people, and then maybe have a deathbed conversion and get it all turned around.” We could do that, or we could say, “I know what my Master has told me to do, and out of love and out of obedience I will do what I’m supposed to do even if it is going to be years before He comes back. Even if I have a pretty good idea that I could immerse myself in all the stuff that others are immersing themselves in, I know what my Lord wants of me; therefore, out of love for Him, I am going to do what is right.” That is the opportunity we have.
Again, when we look at that first reading and we see that the Jewish people lived their faith in secret and offered sacrifice in secret when it was illegal, it is not illegal for us to live our faith. We still have the opportunity to be able to live it out without getting in trouble. Oh sure, we will be ridiculed and rejected, but we do not even have the excuse to say, “I’m going to be thrown in jail if I live my faith. I’ll be put to death if I live my faith.” No, we cannot say that – yet. What if the Church was being persecuted, as it has been in the past and continues to be in some parts of the world, what would you do? Would you walk away from Christ because it was not easy anymore, or would you continue to live your faith? It is easy to come here on Sunday morning surrounded by other people who want to be at Mass. But our faith has to be lived not only here in the church, but especially out in the world – on Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday, and especially in this society on Friday night and Saturday night because that is when they throw everything to Satan and decide that they do not need God until they get out of bed on Sunday. No, we need to live our life and our faith 24 hours a day, 365 days a year because we know what the Lord has asked of us.
We know the commandment that He has given us, we know what He expects of us, and we have to make the choice, not in fear of the severe beating we are going to get if we do not do it, but rather in love because we know the One whom we serve. We know the One who has chosen us and has entrusted to us such great amounts. We know whom we serve – or do we? That is the choice we have to make. It is Jesus Christ or it is Satan; it is one or the other. We have to make the choice. No one can make it for you. You know the One Who has chosen you, you know what it is that He expects of you, now you have to make your choice and you have to live it because from those to whom more has been entrusted more will be required.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.