Monday April 18, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Fourth Week of Easter
Reading (Acts 11:1-18) Gospel (St. John 10:11-18)
Our Lord in the Gospel reading today makes clear to us the way that sacrifice has value, and that has to do with the fact that it is freely offered. I give My life. No one takes it from Me, but I offer it freely, He says. It is precisely in that, He tells us, that the Father loves Him – because He lays down His life freely.
Now we look, then, at how this applies to our own selves. We see, first of all, how in the first reading Peter did not want to do what God was telling him to do, until finally he understood and was willing to do something which by nature for a Jewish person seemed completely wrong: to go into the house of a Gentile, to eat with a Gentile. In essence, Peter had to lay down his life. He did not die in that particular instance, but he had to die to his own preconceived ideas of the way things were supposed to be. And when the people also heard what Peter related, then they did the same. They could rejoice in the Lord. But before that happened, Peter had to take the risk of knowing that, if he did what God was asking him to do, other people would not understand it. How are you going to go back to Jerusalem and explain to a bunch of Jewish people why you went into the house of a Gentile and ate with him? He knew that he was going to get ridiculed, but he was obedient to God; not merely obedient in the sense of saying, “Fine, if this is what I have to do then this is what I’ll do,” but in accepting freely and willfully.
That is what the Lord is looking for from us. Are we doing the things we are supposed to do merely because we are supposed to do them, as though we are in essence being forced into something that we would really prefer not to do, but we do it anyway, kicking and screaming? Or are we seeing that these are means of sacrifice for us? These are the ways that we can grow in holiness if we will embrace the Will of God and if we will freely choose it ourselves. If we are just going through the motions because we have to but we would prefer not to, there is no value in it. It lays a foundation for us, certainly, to be able to work through it and get to the point where we will be able to freely will it, but at the moment there is not much value in it because we do not want to do it. We are being obedient, and that is good, but it is not being obedient in the fullest way. For obedience to be true, it needs to be prompt, it needs to be cheerful, and it needs to be freely chosen.
Are we freely choosing God’s Will? That is what we need to ask ourselves. You can think about what things in your life are the least pleasant. It is easy to be obedient when everything is what you want it to be anyway. When it is what you would have been doing, obedience is a piece of cake. So think about the things you would rather not do, the things that are the least pleasant in the duties of your state in life. Those are the areas where you want to really work at it, to be able to say, “This is what I need to freely choose now. This is what I need to really work at, trying to not merely ‘have to do it’ but to accept it, to freely choose it, to embrace it, to offer it up.” That is where we are laying down our life freely. No one is taking it from us, no one is forcing us to do these things, but we are freely willing it. It is exactly what Our Lord told us to do when He said, If someone presses you into service for one mile, go two with him. If they want your cloak, give them your shirt as well. He is telling us, “Do not be forced into something, but freely choose it.” It is in that free choice to be obedient – to do God’s Will, to die to self – that we are finding where the love of God really lies. If this is why the Father loved the Son, because He freely laid down His life, then it will be the same for us too. If no one exacts these things from us but we freely choose it, that is where it has value and that is where the love is most definitely and clearly proven.
If this is the case for Our Lord and the case for the apostles, it is the case for us too. Whether it is in the ordinary things of our day-to-day life, or if the Lord would ask us to do something extraordinary, it does not matter; the same principles hold. And we need to understand that if it came to something extraordinary, we would not be able to do it freely unless we were freely doing the ordinary things. So we cannot sit back and say, “Well, if the Lord asked me to do something big, then, of course, yes, I would do it!” No, we would not, because if the Lord is asking us to do something small and we are not being faithful in that, how would we ever think that we are going to be faithful in something bigger? We learn by doing the little things, and then the Lord can ask us to do bigger things. So we need to begin just with the duties of our state in life – especially the unpleasant ones – and we need to choose them, to embrace them, to rejoice in the fact that we are doing them, to freely choose it so that no one is forcing it upon us; but rather we lay down our lives freely so that they can be taken up again, and in that way they give glory to God.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.