September 5, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I (Wisdom 9:13-18a) Reading II (Philemon 9-10, 12-17) Gospel (St. Luke 14:25-33)
In the gospel reading today, Our Lord presents to us a very clear challenge: That if we are going to be His disciples it is going to come with a cost. In the first example that He uses in the gospel, He tells us that if we are going to try to build something we have to calculate the cost and make sure that we are able to do it. Otherwise, we are going to start the project and we are not going to be able to finish and we will be the ridicule of all of the others around us. Then, He uses another example about an army that is coming against us and we have to calculate, again, whether we are going to be able to withstand that enemy or whether we should try to make terms of peace. We need to really look seriously at this because this is precisely what all too many Catholics are doing today.
The enemy is Satan and all of his minions. The one who will ridicule us for the rest of eternity is Satan and there is only one reason why he is going to be able to do that and it is because we did not live the life that we professed to live. We want to be able to say that we are Catholic, but all too many Catholics are trying to make peace terms with Satan because he is marching against them with his army and [peace terms] look just a little bit too pleasant. It makes it look a little too difficult to be a Catholic and, after all, it is a lot easier to do what everyone else is doing. So, why not make peace terms with the devil, because what he is offering is more fun that what Jesus is offering? After all, look at what Our Lord tells us the cost is going to be: If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. And, unless you turn your back on all of your possessions you cannot be His disciple. These are some pretty steep things. Once again we need to then look pretty seriously at them. Most of us have gotten to the point where read these passages in scripture and we just sort of ignore them, but the Lord made it very clear that this is the cost.
What this means is that He needs to be the top priority in our lives, and the reason for that is because if something else is the top priority, whether that is some one or some thing, everything else is completely out of whack. If God is the top priority in our lives then everything else will follow in proper order. But, when we make something else more important than God then chaos is going to ensue. What happens is that we begin to shift our priorities around in order to make sure that whatever we have chosen to be our top priority winds up being safe and attainable, whatever it may be. Now, if God is our top priority, on the other hand, what is going to happen is that we are going to seek to do things His way. When we hear the words of Our Lord when He says, “Unless you hate your mother and father, your husband and wife, your children, you cannot be my disciple,” we would think that He must be asking us to walk away, but He is not. He is the One who has called you to the vocation that is yours. If He has called you to marriage and given you a spouse, He is not going to take the spouse away from you. If He has blessed you with children, He is not going to take them from you. However, the point that He is making is a very simple one: If you love Him first and foremost, if you put Him as the top priority, then you will love your spouse the way that you are supposed to and the way that you really want to. And, if you love your spouse the way that you want to then you will love your children the way that you want to. It has to happen in that order. But if we put the children or the spouse before God then things are going to be out of order and we are going to find that we are going to treat them in a selfish way and that we are not truly loving them.
We allow materialism to take over our lives. You can turn on all kinds of radio stations today and hear all kinds of gospels of “health and wealth.” There are many Catholics who are falling prey to this nonsense that goes directly against what the gospel says. But it sure is easy. It is not what Jesus ever talked about. It is just the opposite, in fact, but it is a lot more pleasant than listening to what Jesus says. It is a lot easier than living a truly Catholic life. We need to make the choice. We have embarked upon a journey and it is a journey to eternity. We need to ask ourselves very seriously if we have considered the cost, if we are going to be able to make the journey.
Just think of what it means to be a Catholic. It means to believe in every single thing that the Church teaches, to embrace those teachings and to live them, and that comes down to every facet of our lives. In the society in which we live today, it means that we are not putting holes all over our bodies and tattoos all over our bodies. It means we are dressing properly and speaking in a modest way and acting in a modest way. It means that we are rejecting the contraceptive and abortive mentalities of this society. It means that we are standing up for the dignity of human life. It means that we are seeking holiness and striving for true union with Jesus Christ. If we are going to be true to what it is that we have professed, we must have time every single day set aside for prayer. Again, that does not mean the Morning Offering as you are racing out the door with a piece of toast in your mouth. That means having some serious time set aside every day when you are going to be alone with Jesus. If you are not praying, you are not living a truly Christian life. If Jesus Christ is not the top priority in your life, you are not living a truly Christian life. These are hard things.
The first reading tells us very clearly that in order to be able to understand the things of God it is only through divine wisdom, which comes only from the Holy Spirit, that we are going to be able to understand them. Wisdom says that we have enough difficulty trying to grasp the things of earth. How can we understand the things of heaven? These are things of heaven we are talking about. [We are talking] about seeking that union with Christ, about the eternity where we are going to live, and the choice we are going to make as to which direction we are going for eternity. You can go the route of easy salvation [and think such things as]: Just believe in Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior and you are going to heaven; God wants you to be wealthy; God wants your life to be easy; God wants everything happy for you. I challenge you to show me where it says any of that in the gospel. Look at the Cross and ask yourself, “Is that what God wants? Is that the pattern that He has shown wherein scripture tells us that He has left us an example, to follow in His footsteps?” He came into this world and He lived in poverty. The Son of Man, He said, has nowhere to lay His head. We are following Someone who was ridiculed, condemned, and crucified, and we think that it should be easy. We need to be serious about what it means to be a Catholic.
When we see some of the difficulty, we can look at the second reading from Saint Paul’s Letter to Philemon. It is a very short little letter and today, in fact, is the only time in the entire three-year cycle of readings that we hear from Philemon. The reading is about Saint Paul who wrote to a slave owner to tell him to take back his runaway slave. Now, does that mean that Saint Paul was upholding slavery? No, the point that we have to understand is what Saint Paul asked of Philemon. He told him that in prison, Onesimus, the slave, had converted. [He told Philemon] that, even though the law would allow that the slave owner could beat his slave mercilessly because he had run away, . . . he was now a brother in Christ and that Philemon was to treat him with charity and receive him back as though he were receiving Saint Paul himself.
In other words, if we are truly going to live this Christian life it requires heroic virtue. I mean that we can look at our lives and we can even ask ourselves, “How am I doing on ordinary virtue? What is my language like? What did I do the last time someone cut me off on the freeway? Did I do what scripture says and bless them instead of cursing them?” It works really well if you just simply wait until they are looking in their rear view mirror and then make a little Sign of the Cross. You do not have to say a word. It makes the point very clearly. You can pray for those people rather than curse them. But many of us have fallen prey to the fact that if we are going to have a bunch of maniacs on the road, then we might as well be one, too. Why? If they are going to do something stupid, you do not need to do something equally stupid in order to prove to them that what they did was stupid. All that does is prove that you are stupid, as well. What good does it do? We are called to virtue. We are called to holiness. We are called to be saints. That is what it means to live a Catholic life, to reject the ways of the world, and to live for Jesus Christ.
We have a very formidable enemy who is coming against us and we have to understand that this building that we are trying to build, this tower that is going to lead us to heaven, is not going to be built by ourselves. Alone, we do not have the resources or the strength to do it. By ourselves, we cannot fight against the enemy who is coming against us; but only with the help of God, with the grace that comes through Jesus Christ. Then we will be able to be strengthened in order to be able to do what needs to be done; then we can fight the battle because we have all of the angels of God with us. We have Our Lord and we have our Blessed Lady who has already crushed the head of the vile creature.
But, again, if we are going to go into battle with Jesus and Mary and the angels, it means that we have to be spending that time with them. How are we going to know the battle plan? How are we even going to know who is on our side if we have not taken the time to talk with them? How are we going to be able to have the resources unless we go to Him and ask? This is why He must be the top priority, and the top priority requires prayer. That is the first point of being a Christian person. If we claim to believe in Jesus Christ, and if we want to be followers of Jesus Christ, we must be deeply and profoundly rooted in prayer. Otherwise, we are trying to fight Satan all by ourselves, and that does not work. It cannot [work]. For eternity, then, we would be ridiculed and we would be condemned because we had tried to fight a battle that we were unable to fight by ourselves, and we would have lost; we had tried to walk a journey that we had not had the strength by ourselves to finish.
Look seriously at what it means to be a Catholic. Calculate the cost and ask yourself very seriously, “Am I willing to do this? Do I want to take up the Cross and follow Christ? Do I want to engage in the battle against Satan?” If we answer that we do not want to engage in the battle then we have already chosen hell. Therefore, the real questions is, “Where do I want to go for eternity?” If you want to go to heaven, there is only one way and that way is Jesus Christ. If He is not the top priority, and if we are not seriously living our faith, then we are not walking the right direction; then we have begun to build something we cannot finish and we are going to try to make peace terms with Satan. “Satan,” as one priest says, “always double-crosses his dupes.” There is no such thing as a peace term with Satan because Satan knows no peace. So if you are at peace with Satan, you are not at peace with Jesus Christ. And, if you are not at peace with Jesus Christ you cannot go to heaven. That is the importance of this decision we have to make. Calculate the cost. Look at what the goal is and realize that there is only one way to get there. Then, ask yourself very seriously, “Am I willing to put everything else aside to follow Jesus?”
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.