Wednesday August 25, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (2 Thessalonians 3:6-10, 16-18) Gospel (St. Matthew 23:27-32)
Our Lord, in the gospel reading today, calls the scribes and the Pharisees whitewashed tombs, because they put up quite a façade. They make themselves look real nice on the outside, but inside, of course, it is nothing but corruption. In Israel, because it is mountainous, they have to bury everybody above ground and so they have little sepulchers. In Jerusalem, the dead are buried over on the Mount of Olives. As the sun is setting in the west, it is quite brilliant as it shines against all of the whitewashed tombs that are over on the mountain. That is exactly what Our Lord is pointing at – that they look real nice. However, the reality of what those sepulchers are is for the dead.
Our Lord then goes on to tell the people that their ancestors are the ones who killed the prophets whose tombs they are standing around as they are on the temple steps. Now, He says, fill up what your ancestors measured out. They said that they would not have taken part in the murder of the prophets. Yet, they took part in the death of Our Lord. And, so did we. We would like to be able to say that we did not take part in that and that we would not have done so if we had been alive, that we would have stood up for what was right. Would we have? Saint Paul tells us that we are not to act in a disorderly way and are to be completely shunned, if that is the case. Has anyone here ever acted in a disorderly way? Or, put it the other way, can any of us say that we never have? We have killed Our Lord. We have built His tomb. We would like to be able to say that we would not do that, but we have. Thanks be to God who has given to us the grace of conversion. Thus, we cannot say that we would not have killed Our Lord, because we know that we would have. But, now what we can do, however, is to say that we are going to change our lives and that we are going to get rid of all of the hypocrisy and evildoing that is within.
We recall that Our Lord said that it is not what goes inside that makes a man evil, but what comes out. And, so, if we see within ourselves that there is evildoing, that there is anything other than charity within our hearts, that there is still something that is gravely lacking, that on the outside we make ourselves look real good, but on the inside there is still some evil, then there is still death at work. We are called to life and not to death. We are not called to be the sepulchers that are going to hold the dead, because it is Satan and his minions who are the living dead. We are called to life in Jesus Christ. And so, even though we took part in the death of Our Lord through our sins we can now take part fully in His Resurrection because of our union with Him. And, because our sins can be forgiven because of His death, if we unite ourselves to Him in His Passion, and now in His Resurrection, we will have life at work within us, as Saint Paul says. That is what we are called to: We are called to get rid of all the evildoing, to get rid of all the hypocrisy, to get rid of everything in our lives which is not of God, because if it is not of God then there is only one other place of origin where these things could come from. We need to get Satan out.
It is not just a matter of making ourselves look virtuous, but it is a matter of being virtuous and of living the life that we profess to live. It is not a matter of trying to impress anyone, but it is to live it fully, as Saint Paul tells the Thessalonians, as he had done when he was with them. Then he tells us that we are to imitate him because he himself is an imitator of Christ. Well, that is what we want to be able to do. The wonderful thing for us is that it is more than just imitating Christ. It is allowing Him to live in us, to allow Him to live through us so that, in that way, the fullness of His life is going to shine through us. Then we will no longer be whitewashed sepulchers. Then we will be living as people who share in the Resurrection of Christ, as people who have come forth from the tomb no longer just looking nice on the outside but full of death on the inside. Rather, if Christ is living in us we will be filled with life and then what we present on the outside will be simply a verification of the truth of what is in the heart and that is a true life of holiness, of virtue, and of the fullness of the Risen Life of Jesus Christ.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.