Friday March 4, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Third Week of Lent
Reading (Hosea 14:2-10) Gospel (St. Mark 12:28-34)
In the first reading today, God says through the prophet Hosea: Return, O Israel, to the Lord, your God; you have collapsed through your guilt. That is certainly what we could say in our society as well. We look around and we see that there is literally a moral collapse. We can see that people are in trouble, they are exhausted, they are frustrated, they do not know what it is that they are supposed to be doing, they have no clue even what side is up. Their lives are total chaos – and that is what sin is all about. It is about chaos; it is about noise. Well, what is our society about? Chaos and noise. What we have done is we have collapsed, just a complete collapse because of our sinfulness.
Yet what we would like to be able to say is “We need to get this turned around. I have to do something with my life to turn it around.” It is a very simple thing and it is right there in the Gospel. To love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself, is worth more than any burnt offering or sacrifice. And the Lord approved that insight. These are the two greatest of all the commandments and they are worth more than anything else that we can do. So if we want to get things turned around, it is to make our priorities right. It is to set God as the top priority and to seek to love Him with all our heart and soul and strength.
Now we know from our own experience that that is not an easy thing to do. The concept is certainly a very simple one, but in this society where we have so many things pushing and pulling and screaming at us, it is not easy for us to be able to keep our focus where it belongs. We like to say that we want to love God with our whole heart and soul and strength, but to actually do it is not simple. It is going to require quite a bit from us to be able to do that, that is, quite a bit of effort. But if we are willing to try, God will provide the rest; that is the beautiful thing. That is what the Lord says: Return to Me, O Israel. He is not asking that we would do everything; all He is asking is that we will turn to Him and that we will make the effort. If we are willing to do that, then He will do the rest.
And so if it looks like too big of a mountain to climb, as you are looking at what is going to be required, and you think, “I don’t know if I can do that,” do not worry about whether you can do it. All you have to do is make the first step. Turn around and start making the first step up the mountain. God is going to be there to help you. The grace is going to be there for you to put the next foot in front of the other one, and then again, and again, and again. Just worry about taking the next step. Worry about moving closer to God and do not worry about the rest of it. The Lord will show you, then, what needs to go. He will help you to be able to see what changes need to be made, if you are willing to listen to His voice, if you are willing to open your heart, if you are willing to truly love Him. That is all He is asking, not to have gushy feelings about Him, but to love Him, to put Him as the top priority in your life, which means that we have to get the priority that really has been the top one off of the top of the list. The top priority has been self, and that is NOT what needs to be at the top. “Love God” and “Love neighbor” are the two top priorities. The self is not in there because love is not about the self – love is about the other. The other, in this case, is God, number one. If we put God first and we get the self out of the way, everything else will fall in exactly where it belongs.
If we are willing to make the effort, if we are willing to make the changes, God has promised that He will take care of everything else. So in the midst of the chaos, in the midst of the noise, in the midst of the sin, in the midst of the selfishness, we have to make a choice to turn to God, to listen to His voice, to reject all of the stuff around us, to seek Him with all of our heart and soul and strength, and to love Him. If we are willing to do that, He has made the promise that He will take care of everything else and He will help us to be able to love Him the way that we should. Do not worry about doing everything all at once; just make the choice to turn around, to move toward the Lord, and to seek to love Him to the best of your ability.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.