Save Yourselves From this Corrupt Generation
April 17, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Fourth Sunday of Easter
Reading I (Acts 2:14a, 36-41) Reading II (1 Peter 2:20b-25)
Gospel (St. John 10:1-10)
In the first reading today from the Acts of the Apostles, Saint Peter tells the people that they are to save themselves from this corrupt generation. That was two thousand years ago. Certainly the society in Jerusalem two thousand years ago was indeed very corrupt; however, the society in America in 2005 makes Jerusalem look like a pretty nice place to be two thousand years ago. The corruption we have is far, far worse than the corruption they had two thousand years ago, and we would simply have to ask ourselves, “What would Saint Peter say to us if he were standing here today, calling out and asking us to save ourselves from this corrupt generation?” He would probably have a few even stronger words to say about the situation in which we find ourselves today.
If we are going to be saved from this generation, we have to ask how this is going to take place. Well, first of all, if we look at what Saint Peter was telling the people, he said to them, God has made both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified. And it tells us that they were cut to the heart when he said this. Now the crucifixion of Jesus is not something that is the responsibility of only a few a couple of thousand years ago. Every last one of us, as we read in the second reading today, is responsible for the crucifixion of Christ. The problem is that most of us do not let it anywhere near the heart; consequently, we cannot be cut to the heart because we keep it at an arm’s distance. We do not want to deal with the reality that it is our sins which led Him to the Cross. The people two thousand years ago listened when Peter spoke these words. They allowed it into their hearts and they recognized what it is that their sins had caused. So that is the first step. We have to recognize that it is not only for us that He died but it is because of us that He died. And we need to let this into our hearts so that our hearts can be torn open, so that we can come to the Lord.
Saint Peter, continuing on, speaks to the people about all of those whom the Lord will call. He calls each of us. We hear in the Gospel reading today that the shepherd calls his own by name. They hear his voice and they follow him. If we are going to follow the Good Shepherd, the question is: to where do we follow Him? He tells us that when He calls His own out He walks ahead of them, and His sheep follow Him. Jesus, if He is going to walk ahead of us, has walked right up the hill of Calvary, and through the Cross He has opened heaven for us. But He tells us further that He Himself is the gate, and the only way we are going to be able to get into the pasture – which is heaven – is to pass through the gate. Saint Paul, in his Letter to the Hebrews, speaks to us about how Jesus got to heaven. He says, He has torn through the veil, meaning His flesh. So the only way we are going to get to heaven, the pasture of our souls, is through the wounds of Jesus on the Cross; in particular, the wound that opened His heart to us. If we want to be able to enter into eternity, we have to enter through the Sacred Heart of Jesus, through the hole in His flesh that leads directly into His Heart.
Our Lord goes on then to tell us that every one who came before Him was a thief and a robber. But He says that He Himself has come so that we could have life and have it more abundantly. Now what would the average American look at if we were to say, “What God wants is for you to have abundant life”? Well, “abundant life” to an American means very few children, more money, more material things, more leisure, more pleasure, more things, more selfishness. It is exactly the opposite of what the Lord teaches us about abundant life. Abundance of life for a Christian person is a life of holiness and a life of virtue. It is about rejecting all the ways of the world and it is about living the life of Jesus Christ.
If we are going to live this abundant life, then we need to listen to the call of our Shepherd. And what does Saint Peter tell us? We read the second reading and he tells us that if we are going to suffer patiently for doing what is right this is our call: to suffer. Because Jesus, he says, has suffered and left us an example to follow in His footsteps. He is the Shepherd. He walks in front of us, and where He has gone we have to follow. And for what reason? Saint Peter goes on to say that freed from sin we can live for righteousness. That is the holiness we were just speaking of. So in opposition to what our society presents, a Christian person should be modest, chaste, charitable, joyful, peaceable, kind, and on and on and on the list can go of all the virtues. It is exactly the opposite of what our society is offering.
We see so clearly this dichotomy, and it is a choice that each and every one of us has to make. Which is more important to us right now: to live the American life or to live the Catholic life? Either one is going to lead to eternity. One is going to lead to eternity with Jesus Christ in heaven, and one is going to lead to eternity away from Jesus Christ in hell. Now if you are going to live a Catholic life, you are going to suffer for doing what is right. Saint Peter makes it very clear. In fact, he tells us that the pagans are going to ridicule you because you are not in the same swamp of profligacy as they are. That comes just a few verses after the reading that we had today. Our society has immersed itself in a swamp of filth! – and they do not even realize it. But because they have immersed themselves in that swamp and they seem to enjoy it, they are going to give you lots of grief because you have exited the swamp. Or have you? That is the question we really need to look at within our own selves. How many of us try to play this little game of saying, “I can be both Catholic and pagan at the same time”? We cannot. We either live our lives for Jesus Christ and get out of the swamp or we live the American life and dive headfirst into the swamp. Today it is one or the other; we cannot attempt to live both. We need to make a choice. We have been called, and we have been called by name by our Shepherd. We are called also to recognize His voice and to follow Him.
If you think about the way American society is going, it is sort of like one of these carnival rides. It’s fast, it’s exciting, it swirls all over the place, but just like a drain it swirls downward very quickly. The end of it is going to be with a crash, and those who are in the drain, when they hit bottom, will never get out. For the moment it seems exciting and fun, but for eternity it will be a disaster for those who choose the American ride. The way of Catholicism, on the other hand, according to our society does not look quite so fun. It is to follow the Shepherd right up to Calvary, to be crucified with Him, so that entering through the sheep gate, Who is Our Lord Himself, we will have pasture for eternity. We will have the eternal joy that can never be taken away. So we need to make a choice. Do we want the immediate gratification, the excitement, and the pleasure that this society seems to offer, which if we step back and look at it objectively is precisely what Saint Peter would call it: a swamp of profligacy? Do we want to descend downward very quickly in a swamp? But there are lots of people in it and it’s kind of fun! Or do we want to ascend upward, lifted from the earth on the Cross and reaching up to heaven for all eternity? That is the dichotomy; that is the choice that each and every one of us has to make. And it needs to be made now.
If you are in the swamp, get out and reject it all. Do not even dangle your toe into the swamp. You leave yourself in a very vulnerable position if you are doing that. Anyone can grab your leg and pull you right in. We all know the slippery slope too well and the devil’s trick: “A little bit isn’t going to be too bad. Just a little. We’re not asking you to dive in off the diving board. Just dangle your toe a little bit. It’s kind of fun, isn’t it? Now try your ankle too…now your knee. Just slowly wade into the swamp.” We need to get away from the swamp. That means to get up to high ground, and the high ground for a Catholic is Calvary. We will be ridiculed if we want to be up at Calvary. But if you are patiently enduring suffering for doing what is right, that is God’s Will for you, Saint Peter says, and that is your call. It is the call from your Shepherd Who has already led us up to high ground, up that hill.
We need to follow our Good Shepherd. We need to follow Him to abundant life. Not the abundance of life that America offers, which is going to lead to eternal death, but rather to abundance of life that begins by a death to sin, which leads to eternal life. That is what our Shepherd is offering. We need to make a choice regarding whose voice we are going to follow, because when we decide who our shepherd is going to be – and we are called by name either by Satan or by Christ – the choice is ours. We will follow obediently. We will follow the shepherd whom we choose to shepherd our souls. Both shepherds will lead us to eternity, one to eternal condemnation and one to eternal life. Our Good Shepherd has come into this world, He has shown us the path, and He has called each one of us by name. He has come for one reason, and one reason only: to die so that our sins could be forgiven, so that we could live for righteousness, so that we could have true life and have it more abundantly.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.