Tuesday February 8, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Fifth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Genesis 1:20-2:4a) Gospel (St. Mark 7:1-13)
I think it is a rather providential thing that today, as we come to the last day before Lent, we have this particular reading that we heard from the Book of Genesis reminding us of our dignity. The Lord tells us that on the sixth day, when He created humanity, He created us in His own image and likeness. It does not matter whether we are male or female, it does not matter what color we happen to be, all of us are created in the image and likeness of God, all of us are created equal. And when God looked at what He had made, after He created us, He saw that it was very good. It is the only time in all of creation that God recognized that. After He created the animals, halfway through the sixth day, He saw that it was good; but when He created us – the only creatures that were made after that – all of creation was then very good.
That is who we are as human persons. In the very essence of our being we are very good, and that is something that cannot change. If that changes, then we are no longer human. This is critically important for us to understand. Our society, which has completely destroyed the dignity of people (at least in their own minds), has gotten us to the point where most of us run around thinking that we are worthless, that we are no good, that we are trash or whatever it is you want to call yourself. That goes directly against what God Himself has said. So isn’t it interesting when Our Lord tells us in the Gospel that we have set aside the Word of God for human traditions? It is a sick tradition of this society to tell us how horrible we are.
I am not suggesting that we do not do some pretty rotten things; we all know that we do. You look around our society and it is filled with rotten things. But that does not change the dignity of the person. Even though we can look back in our own lives and perhaps we have fallen into the most unfortunate of sins, we have violated our own dignity in doing those things but we cannot change our dignity, no matter what we do. We cannot take it away, we cannot remove it, we cannot even diminish it. We can act against it, but we cannot diminish it.
That is the part we have to understand because the Lord has created us, first of all, in His own image and likeness. Saint John tells us, God is love, which means that each one of us is created to love and to be loved, and ultimately it is to be transformed into Love Himself, which is Jesus Christ. We can look and see that Our Lord thought so highly of our human dignity that He Himself, Who is God, took our human nature to Himself. If our human nature was worthless and trash, God would not be able to take it to Himself. But He did because we are very good.
Now this, of course, does not suggest that we should walk out of here being arrogant and thinking how wonderful we are and that we are God’s gift to creation. That is not the point either. The point is to recognize, however, the reality of who we are so that we can act in accordance with our dignity. If we think that we are no good, that we are worthless, that we are unlovable, and so on, then we cannot act in the way God created us to act because we do not believe that we can.
As we begin Lent tomorrow, we do not take up the penances because we are garbage. We take up the penances precisely because of the dignity we have and to overcome the areas that do not allow that dignity to shine through the way that it should, that do not allow us to act in accordance with that dignity which is ours. But the first thing we have to be able to do is accept the truth because if we do not accept the truth then, again, we are just like what Our Lord condemned in the Gospel: We give Him lip service but our hearts are from Him. And our hearts are far from Him because we do not believe the reality that He has created in us. If we cannot believe in our own dignity, if we cannot accept it, then how can we ever think that we can enter into a relationship with Him? All that we can do is look objectively from afar and say, “Look what He did for us. It doesn’t make any sense. Why would He do this?” and we will never get any closer. If we can recognize our dignity, then we draw near to Him because we recognize that He loves us because we are lovable. We recognize that He became one of us because we are very good. We recognize that He did all of these things because He saw that we were worthy, not worthy because of any of our actions, but worthy because of who He created us to be. He wants us to be in a relationship with Him. He wants us to draw near to Him, to accept our dignity, and to act according to that dignity.
So as we begin Lent tomorrow, we need to keep this principle firmly in mind. Look at it often if you struggle with your dignity. Note that the first five and one-half days God saw that what He made was good. And when He made you, He saw that it was very good. Struggle with that; wrestle with it if you cannot believe it. Bring it to prayer and allow the Lord to show it to you so that as we move forward in our lives we have this as the foundation upon which everything else builds. If that is the foundation, then we can truly become the persons God created us to be and we can act in accordance with our dignity so that we will be able to be transformed into Love Himself.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.