Friday November 12, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (2 John 4-9) Gospel (St. Luke 17:26-37)
In the first reading today, Saint John tells us that we are to follow the commandment we have had from the beginning. The commandment, he tells us, is that we are to love one another; and this, above all things, is how people are going to ultimately know that we are truly Christian people, by our love for one another, by the way we treat other people, by the charity that we have in our hearts as we deal with other people.
This has become a real problem for people in America. We have all our little pet things that we like to jump up and down about, and then we treat other people like trash. We need to really think very seriously about this because if we look at the lives of the saints what we see is the charity flowing from their love for God, the charity they have toward other people and the way they treat them. They will not say that something wrong is right – they will call a spade a spade – but, at the same time, they are going to correct in charity.
We also live in a society where people have decided that they can sort of make up their own things and do what they want to do. Saint John says that if anyone becomes so progressive so as not to remain firmly rooted in the teaching of Christ, that person has neither the Father nor the Son, which again is something we need to be very, very careful of. If we are going to have true charity toward our neighbor, that charity has to be rooted in the truth. The reason why we would have this charity or this love for our neighbor is precisely because of our love for God. So it is not merely a matter of just being nice to people; that is not what we are being told to do. What we are being told to do as a commandment – again, this is not just a suggestion; this is a commandment – is to have true charity toward other people. That means we first have to be rooted in the truth. Secondly, it means we have to have true love for Jesus Christ. And, thirdly, flowing from Christ, we have to love other people the way that He loves them, and that is the only way we can do this.
There are lots of people who are very kind to others. Oftentimes, it is because they themselves want to be liked or thought well of. But in their kindness toward others, sometimes what they wind up doing is just sort of throwing out everything objective. It does not seem to matter whether they accept the truth or not, and so all they are interested in is being nice – but they are not really interested in being charitable. That is what we have to be very cautious of. It is the balance, as always, that we have to be striving for. Charity seeks always the good of the other person, so if we are not seeking their true good then we have some ulterior motive for what it is that we are doing.
When Saint John tells us that the commandment we have from the beginning is to love one another, he is telling us exactly the way that we are to live our lives. So as we strive to grow in holiness, as we strive to grow in virtue, what we really need to look at then is not just the externals of what we do but the internals of how and why we do what we do. If it is not out of love for God then our purpose is somehow skewed. That is, maybe we just want on the natural level to be doing better than what we have. That is not going to get us to heaven. It may be that we want to be liked by other people, so we will be kind to them. That is not going to get us to heaven either. We are called to true charity, and that is in our hearts, it is in our words, and it is in our actions. So that is something we can look at within ourselves, and we need to make sure it is all matched up. Sometimes we can act in the right manner while interiorly having all kinds of negative thoughts, grumbling and complaining and calling the person names and doing all kinds of other things, but then we can smile at them and be real nice – and we are phony.
We need to make sure that what we are striving for is true charity, seeking truly the good of the other and sacrificing ourselves, as Our Lord made clear in the Gospel that we have to do: to lose our lives in order to save them, to sacrifice ourselves for the good of others. That is what true charity and love of neighbor is about. It is not easy. It is not merely about being nice. It is about uniting ourselves with Jesus Christ, and in the fullness of the truth, in the fullness of love, we are to give for the sake of others.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.