October 10, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I (2 Kings 5:14-17) Reading II (2 Timothy 2:8-13)
Gospel (St. Luke 17:11-19)
In the first reading today, as well as in the Gospel, we hear about two foreigners who give praise to God. It is interesting, especially in the Gospel reading (at least from the sounds of things), that there were ten lepers, nine of whom were Jews and one who was a Samaritan. The nine Jewish lepers did not return to thank Our Lord, but the one who was a Samaritan did. Our Lord tells us in a different Gospel reading that at the time of Naaman there were many lepers in Israel but none of them were healed; the only one who was healed was Naaman, a foreigner once again.
It tells us something that we all know from our own experience anyway, that sometimes when one is born and raised with the truth it is very easy to take for granted. It is just typical of human nature. How many citizens of the city of Rome do you think have ever visited Saint Peter’s Basilica? Very few. If you were going to go to Rome, you would make it an absolute priority to go to Saint Peter’s Basilica; but since it is always there for the people who live there, they never go because they can go anytime. The same thing happens here. If there are tourists who come to town, there are certain things they make sure they are going to go to. We never go there because it is always there. We can go anytime, so we do not go there at all.
Well, the problem with all of this is if we are born and raised as Catholics, sometimes the attitude becomes: “The truth is always right there, the Church is always right there, the Blessed Sacrament is always right there – I can go anytime.” So we do not go at all. It is interesting to see how these people who do not know God and do not expect anything from God are the ones who return glorifying God because they did not take it for granted. Therefore, when they recognize what the Lord has done, we have the Samaritan who returns to the Lord, falling at His feet and thanking Him, and we have the Syrian who asks that two mule loads of dirt would be taken from Israel because from that point on he was no longer going to offer sacrifice or holocausts to any god except the Lord – because there is only one God and it is to Him alone that we offer sacrifice and holocausts. In fact, it is to Him alone that we offer the sacrifice and holocaust, which is the sacrifice of Jesus Christ at Mass.
Now, obviously as Catholics we have all arrived at Mass today. Thanks be to God for the grace to be able to do that. But the question is not so much what happens early on Sunday morning; the question is what happens throughout the rest of the day and the rest of the week. From how many Catholics, when you ask them if they ever go to daily Mass, is the answer either that they do not want to be fanatical or basically that it is always there so they can go anytime? Since it is always there and they can go anytime, they do not do it at all. How many of us, when asked how often we go to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, give the exact same answer? Today we begin the Year of the Eucharist proclaimed by our Holy Father, calling us to a renewal of our faith and our love for Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. The studies that have been done suggest that fewer than 25% of people who call themselves Roman Catholics believe that Jesus Christ is truly present in the Blessed Sacrament. More horrifying than that, about a year and a half ago a survey was done in Chicago and they found that only about 25% of Catholics go to Mass on Sunday, and of those who go to Mass on Sunday only 25% believe in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament! So we are not looking at 75% of those who claim to be Catholic who are rejecting the truth, but we are looking at 75% of those who would claim to be practicing Catholics who are rejecting the truth. So our Holy Father is calling us back to the foundation of our faith.
We need to look very seriously at this because, as Saint Paul reminded us in the second reading in his Second Letter to Timothy, if we deny Him He will deny us. Our Lord told us the exact same thing: If you deny Me before men, I will deny you before My Father in heaven. It is not that most of us are necessarily going to deny Him with our lips, although we do. Think how often the Lord’s Name comes flipping out of your mouth with such ease. It is a denial of Jesus Christ. If you truly love Him, you certainly would not use His Name in vain. Just think of using your spouse’s name, one of your children’s name, your parent’s name in that way. Out of respect and out of love, we would never do such a thing. That tells us what we must think, on one level, about Our Lord if we are going to use His Name in that manner.
But then we can look at ourselves and ask, “If we at least do not deny that He is truly present in the Blessed Sacrament, if we do not out-and-out deny the truths of the Faith, perhaps we are denying Him in our actions?” If we do not act in our day-to-day lives in a truly Catholic way – if we dress immodestly, if we speak irreverently, if we act like the people around us because we want to fit in – we are denying the Lord because we know what He has commanded us to do. If we are not striving to live according to the norms of Jesus Christ, then we deny Him in the way that we live. Even more importantly, if we do not have a life of prayer then we are denying Jesus Christ. We know that it is incumbent upon us as Christian people to pray, and I do not mean to say a prayer as you are eating breakfast in the morning or watching the TV; I am talking about having a solid prayer life. The reality is that we are not living a Christian life at all if we do not pray. Granted, we are baptized and we are indeed Catholics, but if we do not know Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, then while our lips are giving Him all kinds of service, our hearts are far from Him and we deny Him. We deny Him what is rightly His, and that is our prayers, our love, and our adoration. So even if our lips do not deny Him, our actions oftentimes do.
It has been said that converts oftentimes make the best Catholics, and the reason for that is exactly what we see in the readings today. They have come to recognize the truth. They have come from a place where they did not have the fullness of truth to be able to see the beauty of the truth which is present only in the Catholic Church. They have embraced it and they tend to be zealous for that truth because they recognize what it has done for them. They recognize the change that takes place in their lives, and once that happens they want only Jesus Christ. They want to worship Him and they want to adore Him in the Blessed Sacrament – and they want to bring that message out to others. Thanks be to God for these wonderful people because they teach the rest of us what we should already know. But for most of us born and raised Catholic, well, Jesus is always there; we can go to Him anytime, therefore, we never do.
As this new Year of the Eucharist begins, let me challenge you to make a change in your life, to make Jesus Christ the true priority of your life, to make it a point to truly be a Catholic in the fullness of what that means, to frequent the sacraments and especially Holy Mass more than just on Sunday if that is a possibility for you, even every day. Do not worry if people think you are a fanatic. If you truly love God, you are going to say the same thing as Naaman: I will not offer sacrifice or holocausts to anyone except the Lord. That is correct because there is only one Lord, and we want to make sure that we are worshiping Him. I highly stress to you to get regularly to Confession, to make sure that we keep our souls in the state of grace. And even if they are in the state of grace because we have committed only venial sins, still get to Confession often to keep your soul as pure as you can so you can develop that prayer life and that relationship with the Lord, so that we can remove from our souls anything that stands between us and God. Even if it is small, it is still a hurdle; it is still a barrier between He and us. We want to be able to get rid of those things. And make an effort, indeed, make a commitment to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. If you cannot get to the Blessed Sacrament, at least set aside time for prayer everyday. But if it is possible, get to the Blessed Sacrament. As I have told you many times, we have more perpetual adoration of the Eucharist here in the Twin Cities than anywhere in the world so none of us has an excuse. There are nearly 50 parishes right now where the Blessed Sacrament is exposed 24 hours a day. The Lord is not that far from any one of us that we really have an excuse to say that we cannot get there, that it is too far, that it is too inconvenient. He is there waiting for us, and He is there exposed on the altar 24 hours a day, everyday, for our adoration.
During this Year of the Eucharist, commit your life to Christ. Commit your life to prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, and learn from those wonderful people who have come to the faith and recognize the fullness of the truth and are now on fire for the truth, Who is Jesus Christ truly present in the Eucharist. When the Samaritan leper came back to Our Lord and fell at His feet, it was to give Him thanks. And Our Lord asked, Was there no one else other than this foreigner who returned to give thanks to the Lord? Remember, that is what the word “Eucharist” means – thanksgiving. We receive Jesus and we walk out the door. Are there none but the converts who return to give thanks to the Lord? Are there none but just a handful, just a few who are Catholics who return to say “thank you” to Jesus? Commit yourself to that. Make it a point during this new year to really dig into the Faith, to study it, to fall in love with the truth. The truth, remember, is a person, the Person of Jesus Christ. Fall on your knees before Him to offer Him sacrifice and worship, and to offer Him the thanksgiving that is due to Him in the Blessed Sacrament.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.