October 3, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I (Habakkuk 1:2-3; 2:2-4) Reading II (2 Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14)
Gospel (St. Luke 17:5-10)
In the first reading today from the Book of the Prophet Habakkuk, we hear the words: The vision still has its time…if it delays, wait, and the Lord speaks through the prophet and tells us that the just man will live by faith. If we look at what Habakkuk says right before this, he is complaining to the Lord. He is looking around at what is going on in society and does not like what he sees – violence and bloodshed and all the problems – and he calls out to the Lord, and the Lord is not answering. He is wondering, “Why do You not intervene? Why do these things happen and You don’t answer?” He lays out all kinds of problems, and the Lord’s answer was very clear: Write it down: The vision still has its time; it will happen.
But the point that the just man will live by faith is the point that is most critical to be able to understand because the society in which we live today is very much similar to what Habakkuk would be complaining about. We look around and we see all the problems in society. We are killing 4,000 babies everyday in this society. We have pornography all over the place. We have all kinds of immoral things going on: people pushing for euthanasia, killing babies to try to get stem cells so that they can do research, other unfortunate souls thinking that they are actually going to clone a human being, and on and on the list goes. We cry out to heaven and we say, “How long?!” We have been praying for how long and there is no answer from heaven. The answer remains the same: The just man will live by faith.
Now we have to ask ourselves, “If that is the case, what does it have to look like for us?” Well, first of all, Our Lord tells us in the Gospel reading that we are called to be servants, to be servants of Christ. As we have spoken many times, there are two ways that we can do things. We can do it Satan’s way, who said, “I will not serve.” Or we can do it the way of Jesus, Who said, I have come into this world not to be served but to serve and to give My life as a ransom for the many. He lays out for us exactly what it is going to require if we are going to be a servant. It is to be obedient to what the Master has told us to do and to recognize who we are.
It is always a very fine balance that we are trying to walk as Christian people because on one level we recognize the immense dignity that God has given to us, creating us in His own image and likeness, calling us to union with Himself. Yet, at the same time, we have to recognize our own unworthiness, that what we really deserve because of our sins is to be condemned for all eternity, that we have not been faithful, and that even though He has given us this immense dignity by comparison to God we are nothing. The struggle we have to keep trying to maintain is how do we see our own nothingness and at the same time recognize our dignity? How do we understand that we truly are worthless servants, and yet we are loved so much by God? But it is a matter for us of being able to recognize that if God loves us so much, we have to love Him in turn. And to love Him is to be obedient to Him.
Now if we are going to be obedient, most of think somehow that that is a violation of our dignity. “If God made us free, I can do whatever I want to do. I don’t have to be obedient to anyone.” Well, that is exactly what sin is all about. Remember that God desires and wills only what is the best for you. Therefore, to be obedient to God is true freedom because to be obedient to God is to do what is the very best. To be obedient to God is the very best thing for you, so it does not violate your dignity but rather it fulfills it and it enhances it. And so to be the servant, to be the one who is called to serve is part and parcel of our Christian dignity.
We live in this society which is completely self-centered – and it is getting worse. So selfish have we become that you can move into a neighborhood and live there for years and you will not even know who lives next door because no one even says “hello”. Just walk down the sidewalk and ask yourself how many people greet you. Most often, none. What a tragedy! Teenagers all run around with these little things in their heads listening to their horrible music, and they speak to no one. They are caught up in their own little world. Satan has managed now to provide his best attempt to play god; it is called the Internet where all the knowledge in the world is there in one place. So the temptation is there for us: “You can be like God. You can have all the knowledge, just spend hours and hours and hours looking things up, and, of course, getting into a little trouble too. But what’s a little trouble when you can have all this knowledge?”
We need to be very careful. We need to recognize again what it means for us if we are going to be servants of God. It means we have to be seeking His Will, it means we have to be trying to do His Will, and the only way we are going to know the Will of God is in prayer. We like to be so self-defined. We like to be able to say, “This is what I want to do and this is what I’m going to do.” It’s not about “me”. That is the problem in our society; it is all about what everybody wants. The average home in America now has numerous television sets so that even if you are going to waste your time in front of that stupid thing, you are not wasting your time with anybody else! Everybody is doing their own little thing so that they can all be in their own little world totally isolated from everyone else. Pure selfishness. So when we listen to the Lord and He says to us that we are called to be servants, we think that violates us. If we would only stop and look and realize that what the devil has provided in our society is what violates us, but because it is completely selfish we think that it is good – because we like it. That is the problem with sin: We like it and so it just encourages us in our selfishness. Then what happens is that when we become selfish we do not want to do what God wants; in fact, we become ashamed of our faith. We are embarrassed, we start making excuses, and we deny Jesus Christ because we will not serve.
Saint Paul says to Timothy that he is to stir into flame the gift of God which was bestowed upon him in the imposition of hands. In a particular way, he is talking about the ordination of Saint Timothy, whom Saint Paul made a priest and a bishop. But each and every one of us, on the day we were confirmed, had hands imposed upon us, the bishop reaching out his hands over us and praying for the coming of the Holy Spirit. And Saint Paul says that we have not been given a spirit of cowardice, but a spirit of courage. So Timothy, in the midst of all the trials, had to look at himself; and Saint Paul is saying, Do not be ashamed of your faith in Jesus Christ, do not be ashamed of the Gospel, and do not be ashamed of me, a prisoner for Christ. In other words, looking at something that would appear to be terribly negative, Saint Paul is saying, Don’t be ashamed.
In our society today, to be Catholic is a negative thing, so we each have an opportunity to make a choice. We have not been given a spirit of cowardice. We know that the truth resides only in the Catholic Church, the fullness thereof, that is. We know that Jesus Christ founded only one church and to this day it is called the Roman Catholic Church. We know that Jesus Christ is truly present in the Blessed Sacrament. We know that Jesus was persecuted and put to death, and so will His Church be. Now we have a choice. Are we going to be ashamed of our testimony to Jesus Christ? Are we going to make excuses and be embarrassed, start backpedaling when people ask us about our faith? Are we going to wimp out on what is true because it is more convenient? Or are we going to stand up for the truth? Are we going to be a true servant of Christ?
When we do what we are supposed to do, interestingly, we think we have done something heroic; and the Lord, in the Gospel, says, Should the Master be grateful? It is like when parents give their children chores, ask them to clean their room or do the dishes or whatever it might be, should the parents be grateful to the child for having done only what he was supposed to do? Somehow we think that God owes us for doing something that was right, something we were supposed to do in the first place. We need to put things in proper context.
When we look around and we wonder, “Where is God? Why is He allowing all of these horrible things to happen in the world?” it is in part to test our faith, to find out if we are going to remain faithful when it seems that God is not, to see if we are going to be ashamed or embarrassed when it seems that everything is going against what we know to be true. Are we going to continue to stand up for what is right and true? Are we going to continue to strive to live what is right and true even when the majority is not? That is why He is allowing all of this to happen: to test our faith, to see if we are willing to continue to cooperate with the Holy Spirit and stir into flame the gift that was given to us. Not to hide it, not to be embarrassed of it, not to try to keep it away from everybody else, but to bring it to flame, to be on fire with the love of God, and to bring Jesus Christ out into the world. That is what a servant of Christ is all about: to continue to live the life of Christ into Whom you have been incorporated.
And so as we look around and we wonder why, all we need to do is look right back at ourselves and say, “The reason why the Lord is allowing this is for each one of us to make a choice.” We have a choice of whether we are going to serve Jesus Christ or whether we are not. If we choose not to serve Christ, then we have chosen to serve ourselves; and if we have chosen to serve ourselves, we know who we are really serving because ultimately there will only be two masters. It is either Jesus Christ or it is Satan; that is the choice. All of us will serve one or the other. The question is, Whom will you serve? If you stand up and say, “I will not serve,” that is the battle cry of Satan and you have made your choice. The devil is shrewd enough that you do not have to say, “I will serve the devil,” because he knows most of us are not going to say that, so all we have to do is say, “I will not serve God. I will serve myself. I will do what I want to do.” If that is the attitude we have, then we have listened to the lie of Satan, who said, “You can be like God,” because that is what he did, that is what he tempted our first parents with, and that is what he continues to tempt each one of us with.
We are called to remain faithful, to serve God, and to know that each and every promise Our Lord has ever made – through the prophets, through His own Son, through the Church – will be fulfilled. The vision still has its time and it will not fail. The question is not about the fidelity of God; the question is about our own fidelity. As we look around and we see the problems and we wonder and we doubt, then we have to ask the question, “Whom will I serve?” The choice is yours and there are only two possible answers. All of us who are baptized are called to be servants of Jesus Christ.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.