Friday June 10, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Tenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (2 Corinthians 4:7-15) Gospel (St. Matthew 5:27-32)
In the first reading today, Saint Paul tells us, We hold this treasure in earthen vessels, and that, he tells us, is so that the surpassing power may be from God and not from us. We recognize the nature of the earthen vessels he is talking about (that is, our bodies) and we all know very well the weakness that is inherent within. But this is something that we really need to look very seriously at.
When we hear about Our Lord telling us in the Gospel reading that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart, that tells us the nature of things. It shows us the nature on both sides of the situation, a weakness that is inherent; that is, a weakness in men who look at women as objects, which is a complete and total violation of the dignity of a woman because she is not an object – she is not something to be ogled; she is a person who has dignity and is to be loved as such – but then we look around society today and we have a problem also with women who are not modest, who are hanging out in every direction that one can imagine. We see that the men are treating women as objects, but the women are presenting themselves in the same kind of way. So it is necessary on both sides to be able to recognize the dignity of the person. We also, of course, have the same problem the other way, that the way the men are dressing these days is nothing less than disgusting. Their pants hanging halfway down to their knees and the fashions they are wearing, it’s sick.
But, again, it is simply to say that what we are doing is giving full rein to Brother Donkey, as Saint Francis called the body. We are giving full rein to the vessel of clay. What we are doing in this society is to say, “God has nothing to do with this because we’re going to focus on the vessel. We’re going to focus simply on what is material and what is passing away.”
But Saint Paul says that we carry the treasure in these earthen vessels in order to show that its surpassing power comes from God, not from us. We know our weaknesses all too well, whether it is the weakness of presenting ourselves in a vain manner, or whether it is looking at another person in a manner that is in opposition to their dignity. We know the weakness of the vessel. Therefore, if we are going to be modest, if we are going to look at one another with dignity, if we are going to treat one another with dignity, if we are actually going to be charitable in the approach to one another, we know that this can only come from God because we know fully well that left to ourselves we are going to do the wrong thing – because we have all done it all too many times, whether it is the way we present ourselves, whether it is the way we look at another person, whether it is the way we treat another person. We know that left to ourselves we are probably going to look or act or present ourselves in the wrong way. And so if we are going to be able to do what we should, it only can be by the grace of God. That is precisely the point we need to understand: that we carry the message of the Gospel in earthen vessels. Saint Paul tells us that he carries in his body the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus can also be revealed through his body. It is the way we are to live, not just the way we speak; that is there too – we believe and therefore we speak, he says – but it is the way we live, it is the way we present ourselves, it is the way we carry ourselves. It must present to the world Jesus Christ.
If we are going to carry the death of Jesus in our bodies, it is to be able to deny the body what it might naturally seek in an inappropriate way. We must use the body to be able to express true love, true charity for others, so that we are not looking at others inappropriately, that we are not presenting ourselves inappropriately, but rather that we show to the world the love of Jesus Christ in human form. He came into this world and did exactly that, and He desires that we will continue to do that, that He can live in us and through us, that we can continue to show the world what it means to live the life of Christ. Therefore, we are to crucify the body, to deny the body what it might desire (provided that those desires are inappropriate) so that we can discipline ourselves. This world today more than any other time needs to see that crucifixion of Christ in us, needs to see the life of Christ being lived in us, to deny the wrongful desires so that we can live according to the freedom which we have in Christ.
If we are willing to choose the death of Christ, then what will be revealed in us is the life of Christ. And when people see that revealed, they will be able to recognize immediately that it is not us, because we would do what everyone else is doing. It is the normal, natural human thing: “Everyone else is doing it, I have to also” – even though it’s wrong. So if we are going to be able to continue to live modestly, to practice custody of the eyes, to practice true charity toward one another, that can only come from God. That is what Saint Paul is asking of us, to allow the life of Christ to be in us and to carry in our bodies, in these earthen vessels, the treasure of Jesus Christ Himself and the message of the Gospel, so that in and through the body we live the death of Christ in order to live the life of Christ and present to the world what it means to be a truly Christian person, because this world does not know what it means. The only way the world will see it is through our example. Not merely to hear it in our words, but above all to see it lived out. And that is going to be only in these vessels of clay, these earthen vessels in which we carry the most precious treasure – and that is the life and death and the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.