January 30, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I (Zephaniah 2:3; 3:12-13) Reading II (1 Corinthians 1:26-31)
Gospel (St. Matthew 5:1-12a)
In the first reading today, Our Lord, speaking through the prophet Zephaniah, tells us that we are to seek humility, that we are to seek justice, that we are to seek what is right. He talks about the fact that this is going to be necessary because there will have to be some who are going to survive the period of trial, and that there is going to be a remnant of the Lord that is going to remain.
Now if we look at the situation in our world today, there are not very many people who are seeking humility, or righteousness, for all that matters. Humility is just the opposite of what our society tells us we ought to be seeking. Society tells us that it is all about “me” and that arrogance is the way to go, that it is all about looking out for “number one”. Tragically, “number one” is not God; “number one” in society is the self. So we have all kinds of selfish people running around with little or no care about anyone else, and the good that they will do for someone else is ultimately done for selfish reasons, for what they are going to be able to receive in return. What happens, then, in a society where you have lots and lots of selfish people is that evil is going to grow exponentially. Anyone who has been around for a few decades will be able to acknowledge that this is precisely what we see happening. And as we have spoken many times, this is something which is necessary. God is allowing evil to run its course, and the day of reckoning is soon to come.
I have warned you of that many times. A couple of weeks ago, our Holy Father Pope John Paul II said in an address that there is going to be an historic event that is going to put an end to evil in the world, and, on the other side of that, people will have a freedom from evil that they have never known before. ** (Please see statement below) Look again at what the prophet Zephaniah says. Those who are going to be part of the remnant, he says, they will not lie, there will not even be deceitful words coming out of their mouths. They are going to be righteous people. It tells us then how it is that we have to live now, but the problem is that before we can live it we have to be able to reject the lies that we have bought.
** The information about the Holy Father’s statements contained in this homily is based on two separate news reports which, upon investigation, badly misquoted our Holy Father. Please see the following link to read what the Holy Father actually said. I apologize to anyone who may have been confused or misled by what was stated in this homily. – Father Robert Altier
So we look at the second reading today, and Saint Paul reminds us rather point-blank of who we are. Not many of you, he says, were wise, not many were of noble birth, not many were powerful. God chooses the foolish to shame the wise and He chooses the weak to shame the strong. If we really look into our own hearts, while we like to protest about all of the grandeur that we are (because that is what we have been told) the reality is that we have to admit the truth. Most of us were chosen specifically because we were weak, because we were foolish, because we were not well born. God chooses precisely those people because they are the ones who would be willing and able to do His Will. But the devil in his shrewdness has found a way to worm his way right into our living rooms to be able to tell us that what God says is not true. “You’re the best. You’re the brightest. You’re the greatest. The world revolves around you! Step on other people, lie, cheat, steal, it doesn’t matter what you have to do – get ahead! All that matters is power, money, prestige, material things.” We all know that is the lie the devil has been telling.
If we really want to see where we are well born, we need to look at our baptism, our rebirth. Look at Jesus. He is God. He is the King of the Jews. Where did He choose to be born and in what circumstances? And how did He choose to live His life? He was born in a barn. He lived a life of poverty. He lived a life of rejection, and He lived it all the way to the end to the point where He was abandoned by almost everybody and there He hung upon the Cross. And He told us that, if we were going to be His followers, the same was going to happen. The way the Lord expects us to live our lives is laid out very nicely for us in the Gospel: to live the Beatitudes. If we live the Beatitudes, which means if we live a truly Catholic life, then the last of the Beatitudes is also going to be ours. Blessed are you when they persecute you and insult you and utter every kind of evil falsely against you because of Me, He says. That is when we are truly blessed. Not when we fit in, not when we are like everybody else, not when we are doing the same kinds of unfortunate things as the rest of the people around us are doing. When we are living the life of Christ, that is when we are blessed.
We need to look very seriously at these things within our own lives because they have eternal consequences. If we took a poll right now and said, “How many people here want to go to heaven?” as opposed to “How many want to go the other direction?” I assume that the vote would be rather lopsided for the former. But then if we took the next vote and said, “How many people want to live in this world a truly Catholic life?” as opposed to “How many people want to live a worldly life?” unfortunately, the vote would go the other way. Why would you want to go to heaven and live a Catholic life for eternity if you do not want to live it now? If you want money and power and prestige and all of the selfishness, the devil is more than happy to provide it. In hell, everyone is selfish. That is all there is in hell: selfishness, hatred, lies, cheating, walking on one another. It sounds kind of like America, doesn’t it? And not just America, it is a universal problem. We are called to live holy lives, to be humble, to be righteous. That means we are going to get walked on. It means people are going to violate us. We can look at that and say, “If I don’t want to get violated then it’s better to be like them!” Well, if it is better to be like them then we are going to be with them, not only in this world but in the next.
We are called to be Catholic. To live our faith in Jesus Christ is a 24 hour a day, 365 days a year proposition. You do not take a vacation from being Catholic. You cannot take a vacation from being you. Anywhere you go, anytime that you are anywhere, you are still you, and you cannot ever get away from that. But you are a member of Jesus Christ. You are baptized into Jesus Christ and you are called to live the life of Jesus Christ, so no matter where you are and no matter what time it is you are a Catholic. It is not a one-hour a week thing. It is not even something that we can say, “Okay, I’ll have a little time for prayer everyday.” It is every minute of every hour of every day that we have to live this life.
The time is short and it is critical. And while it is always imperative for us to maintain the state of grace, to keep ourselves always in the state of grace and to be seeking to live a holy life, it is more imperative now than ever. When the Vicar of Jesus Christ on earth is telling us that an historical event is coming that is going to put an end to evil, we need to pay attention to that. The Holy Father is not prone to gross exaggerations. It is not like our Holy Father to see if he can stir up the masses into some sort of hysterical frenzy. He is telling us this because he is warning us. We need to make a choice. It is not so much a question of whether we are going to be part of the remnant that is going to remain; it is a question of whether or not we are going to go to heaven. That is all that matters. And the only way we are going to get there is if we are living the life that we have professed, if we are living according to our rebirth, because, in Christ, He is our wisdom, He is our righteousness, He is our sanctification, as Saint Paul tells us. It is about Him; it is not about us. If we are going to live it out, we need to keep our focus on Him and get the focus off of the self. This goes completely contrary to the ways of the world, but so does heaven. The ways of Christ are contrary to the ways of the world.
We need to make a choice, and we need to make it now, because it is not something that one day we are going to be able to wake up and suddenly say, “Okay, I’ve decided that I’m really going to do it now,” and think that we are going to be able to carry it out. If we are going to live the life, we have to start trying to put it into practice. We are not going to have many examples, and we are not going to have many people helping us. If we look at the call which is ours – to be humble, to be righteous – look around and see how many examples there are. Even within the Church, you are not going to find it. I am not talking just about the people of God; I am talking about the bishops and the priests and right down the line. The arrogance, the selfishness, the money-hungry, power-hungry people that are all over the place, they are right in the Church too. But we cannot look at that. We need to look at Jesus, and we need to keep our focus solely on Him. We need to live His life and not worry about what everybody else is doing because on the Day of the Lord there will be no hiding. All the money, all the power, all the materialism, it is all going to melt away before the justice of God. Each one of us, in essence, will spiritually stand naked before Him; so all the stuff of the world will be useless. The only thing that is going to matter is that of the soul.
We need to live the faith that we profess. Look at the Cross and keep your heart focused right there. Live the life of Jesus Christ, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Pray for humility, pray for righteousness, and seek to live it out, knowing that if you do you are going to be persecuted, you are going to be ridiculed, you are going to be rejected. But so was He. So why would we be surprised if it happens to us? But in the midst of all of that, we will learn what really matters. We will live the life that we are called to live, and we will save our souls so that we will be able to spend eternity with Him. If we want eternity with Him, we need to spend our time in this world with Him. To spend our time with Him is to live His life, and to live His life is to live the faith. So that is the point where we are at right now. The choice we have to make is a radical one. It is going to be radical in this life, but it is going to be radical for eternity. If you want to go to heaven and live a Catholic life for all eternity, then spend your time in this world living your Catholic life every minute of every day for the rest of your life.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.