October 31, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I (Wisdom 11:22-12:2) Reading II (2 Thessalonians 1:11-2:2)
Gospel (St. Luke 19:1-10)
In the first reading today from the Book of Wisdom, we hear that God hates nothing of what He has created. If He hated it, He would not have made it in the first place. And we are told that nothing can remain in existence unless it is God’s Will that it remain that way. Well, that says something very important about ourselves. Clearly, God does not hate us; in fact, later on in the reading He is called “The Lover of Souls”. What is important about this is that most of us, for some odd reason, do not really believe this. In our heads we know it is true, and, of course, we would immediately object and protest and say, “Well, of course God loves me!” But if we went down into our hearts and we really looked seriously at that point, we would ask ourselves, “Do I really even think that I’m lovable? Do I think that I’m worthwhile? Do I think that I’m any good at all?” and most of us tragically would say, “No.”
Now we do not want to fall into the trap on the other side of thinking that somehow we are the greatest thing since sliced bread, but at the same time we need to be able to recognize our true dignity, that God has made us in His own image and likeness, but in Jesus Christ He has elevated us to a dignity which is nearly infinitely beyond what it even was in the Garden. You can ask yourself, “Would you prefer the Garden of Eden, which would certainly be a wonderful place, the mind and the will have complete control over the body, there is no sin, things are all in order and everyone is doing God’s Will? Or would you prefer to be in Jesus Christ?” That is what we have. We do not have what Adam and Eve had, but we have something which is nearly infinitely greater than what Adam and Eve had because our humanity has been raised now to a divine level. Granted, we live in a very sinful world – we have to struggle with all of the difficulties and problems that we have and our own sinfulness – but in Jesus Christ we have been redeemed, so we are able to live as Adam and Eve did, and more. We are never going to have the original justice that was there in the Garden, but the reality of the matter is that in Christ we can live the way we were created to live.
But it has to begin with the acceptance of the truth, and the acceptance of the truth has to begin with the rejection of the lie. In the Garden, Satan walked in and he lied to our first parents, and they believed him. And Satan has been lying to us every day of our lives. The tragedy is that we have listened to him and we have believed him. It is time that we stand up and say, “Wait a minute.” Our Lord says that His sheep know His voice, they listen to Him, they hear Him, and they follow Him. Isn’t it interesting that we have these two voices crying out in our hearts, and the One that says, “I love you,” the One that says, “You are good,” the One that says, “You are not a piece of junk,” we do not want to listen to. But to the one that says, “You worthless, no-good, rotten, piece of garbage,” we listen and we follow. We give in to the vile lies of that evil creature. We have rejected the voice of our Shepherd, we have rejected the voice of the One Who loves us, and we have chosen to listen to the voice of the one who hates us.
Now we can look at it and say, “Well, why should God love me? Look at all of my sins!” Look at the Gospel. Jesus called Zacchaeus to Himself: Zacchaeus, come down. I mean to stay at your house this day. People grumbled and said, “He went to stay in the house of a sinner.” And when Zacchaeus recognized what happened, he made a choice right there on the spot to change his life. He pledged to the Lord that anyone whom he had extorted he would repay fourfold, and that of all the wealth he had accumulated he was going to give half of his belongings to the poor. Our Lord said, Today salvation has come to this house, for this man too is a child of Abraham. Well, we are more than a child of Abraham; we are members of Jesus Christ, and salvation has come to our house. The question is do we want it?
You have to understand, again looking at that first reading, God created you because He loves you. God is keeping you in existence because He loves you. You are here today because God loves you. He has chosen you by His own design and for His own reason, and He has called you to Himself. He has made you a member of His own Son, and He has given you the dignity of Jesus Christ. He has raised you up to a divine level, and in your heart He says, “I love you.” We need to quit rejecting His voice. We need to be able to accept the truth.
It is time that we reject the lies, that we realize who it is that is telling us all of these things that are not true: the father of lies, who is a murderer and liar from the beginning, the one who wants you to be with him for eternity, the one who rejected the truth of Jesus Christ and of His holy Mother right from the very beginning of creation. But you have accepted the truth in Jesus, and therefore you have made a vow – a vow – that you were going to reject Satan and all of his lies. Yet we keep listening to his lies and we keep believing them. Oh, and his lies are legion: “You’re unlovable! You’re no-good! God doesn’t want you! You’re too big of a sinner! You’re rotten! You’re worthless! God will reject you! God has abandoned you!” On and on and on the lies go, and tragically we listen and we believe. Yet when from the tabernacle the Voice speaks and says, “I love you,” and He speaks to us and He says, “Hurry down to the communion rail because today I mean to stay in your house,” for some odd reason we do not listen and we do not believe; even worse, we do not even want it.
Saint Paul prayed for the Thessalonians that through the grace of Jesus Christ they would live a life that was worthy of their calling. Look at your call. It is to be a saint! It is to be a child of God and a member of Jesus Christ and an heir of heaven. It is to live in this world as Jesus Himself did, in a divine way. It is to be holy. That is again where we get ourselves in trouble because the devil will tell us, “If that’s the way you’re going to live, it’s not going to be any fun!” So we reject the dignity of our call, we reject our own dignity, and we choose to wallow in the mire with the vile creature and all of those in league with him. It is time that we stand up and reject the lie. It is time that we embrace the truth. And I do not mean just in an objective way; I mean in the depths of our hearts, to go inside and in a subjective way to accept the truth of who we are and the truth of the dignity of the call which is ours, and to live the life that Jesus is calling us to live. That is what we have to be about. He is inviting each one of us. He has already done all of the work. All that we need to do is hurry down, down into the depths of the heart and recognize the One Who desires to stay in our house today, to recognize the One Who dwells in our souls if we are in the state of grace.
If we have done something that is not worthy of our call, if we have lived a life that is not in keeping with our dignity, then we need to get to Confession. We need to trust in the mercy of God Who loves us that He will indeed forgive. As we heard toward the end of the first reading, God will rebuke gently, little by little, those who go the wrong way because He wants to call them back. He does not destroy us when we sin because He loves us and He wants us to return. It is the devil who says, “You can’t be forgiven; your sins are too big!” That is nonsense. We need to confess the sin but then we need to change our lives. We need to quit sinning and offending God. We need to be like Zaccheus. We need to be able to stand before the Lord and say, “If I have sinned then I will change. I will stop doing what I’ve been doing, and I’m going to begin to live the life that I’m supposed to live.” That is the way we have to be. And when we do that, when we commit ourselves to a life of prayer and a life of holiness, a life that is lived in union with Jesus Christ – to follow the Commandments and live according to the dignity that is ours, to live a life that is truly worthy of our calling – then Our Lord, Who has come to seek out what was lost, Who has come to find the lost children of Abraham, will look at us and He will say, Today salvation has come to this house.
If you are lost, listen to the voice of the Shepherd speaking in your heart, calling you back to Himself. Reject the one who says, “He doesn’t want you!” Reject the one who says, “Keep straying because it’s more fun on this side!” Reject the one who tells you, “You can’t be forgiven!” Humble yourself because there is another Voice speaking in your heart that says, Hurry down because I mean to stay in your house this day.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.