June 12, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I (Exodus 19:2-6a) Reading II (Romans 5:6-11)
Gospel (St. Matthew 9:36-10:8)
In the second reading today, Saint Paul tells us that while we were enemies with God Jesus died for us. And he tells us that it is in this way that God proves His love for us. If you just ponder the point for a moment, ask yourself, “Which person whom you would consider an enemy, someone whom you would terribly dislike, or at least someone who dislikes you terribly, which of those people would you be excited about offering your life for?” Most of us would be hard-pressed to even lift a finger to help the person, let alone be willing to offer our very lives. Yet Saint Paul tells us that while we were still enemies with God Jesus died for us.
Now there is no greater way to demonstrate one’s love than to die for somebody; as Saint John says, Jesus loved His own and He loved them to the end. If you needed to try to prove to somebody that you love them (not that we can ever actually prove it, but if we could) and the person simply did not believe you and kept saying, “How do I really know that you love me,” you keep having to show it more and more. As I have many times mentioned, love is proved only in suffering. But even if you suffer with somebody and they still do not believe that you love them and they want an ultimate proof of your love, the only way you can ultimately demonstrate it is to die for them. Of course, on the natural level, all that is going to happen then is that the person will be able to live alone saying, “Yup, I guess I know somebody loved me. It’s too late now, but the person really loved me.” Well, with Jesus it is not too late because He lives. He is risen from the dead and He continues to live.
It is a hard thing for us to believe in God’s love. It should be the easiest thing in the world, but for some reason we think ourselves to be so unlovable and so worthless and so wretched that we do not believe God loves us. Yet when we look at the first reading today, God says to the people of Israel: If you hearken to My voice and follow My command, you will be a special possession to Me, a people dear to Me. You will be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Lest we think these words are given only to the people of Israel, we, as the New Israel, have the words addressed to us in the Second Letter of Saint Peter, when Saint Peter says, You are a holy people. You are a royal nation. You are a kingdom of priests. We are a special possession to God. He gave His only Son for us so that we could be reconciled to Him. In doing this, as Saint Paul tells us, if God has given us His Son while we were still His enemies, now that we are reconciled with Him, how much more can we be assured that we will be saved from the wrath of God? And as he asks in his Letter to the Romans: If God did not spare His only Son, will He spare us anything? The answer is obviously “no.” Every single thing that God will possibly be willing to offer is right there at our disposal, all of the graces, all of the help.
This is why at the beginning of the second reading Saint Paul says, While we were helpless… And look at the Gospel. Jesus looks at the people – us – and they are like sheep without a shepherd. Sheep without a shepherd are a helpless bunch. Quite frankly, sheep without a shepherd, well, just sheep in general are pretty stupid. They are dependent upon a shepherd to lead them to a pasture that is green. Otherwise, the sheep do not even move. They just sit there in the same pasture until there is nothing left of it. They are dependent on a shepherd to keep them moving, and so are we. All we need to do is look back on our lives and we realize that if it were not for some sort of miracle we would be sitting in our sin, like the sheep sitting there in the same pasture doing nothing. We realize that we would be stuck, that we are truly helpless.
But Saint Paul says, In Christ I can do all things. It is not any one of us on our own that is doing it; it is the Lord who is doing it in us and through us. He has called us to Himself, and He is guaranteeing to us that He will give us absolutely everything we need to be able to do His Will and get to heaven. He has called us to be a holy people, to be a people who are His own special possession. Think about that. What we oftentimes will do is object when we hear words like that because we recognize our sinfulness and our unworthiness. But the reality of the matter is that God has chosen you – individually, personally, by name – to be His own special possession. You! Of all the people on the face of the earth, God has chosen you to be His own special possession because He loves you.
All that He is asking you to do is to accept it, to quit fighting, to quit coming up with excuses as to why it cannot happen, because it has already happened. Then once you accept it, it is to change your life. It is to live as a kingdom of priests, as a holy nation. It is to live a holy life. That is what God is asking from each one of us, that we would give ourselves entirely to Him as He has to us. The proper response to love is love. Remember that love by its very nature is reciprocal; it must be returned. It is two people loving one another. God has loved us and He has proven His love beyond any doubt.
It is Satan who is there telling us that God cannot love us. It is the devil who is telling us that we are unlovable, because God tells us that we are lovable and that He loves us. We need to reject the lie and we need to accept the truth that God loves us, that He has called us to Himself, and that He has called us to a life of true holiness. That is our dignity.
Now He is waiting for our response. One cannot love alone. You can try to give love in a relationship, but if it does not come back, you have loved but there is not true, whole, complete love because love is reciprocal. God has loved us, but love requires a response, and it requires a like response. So Love is waiting to be loved.
Remember back about 300 years ago when Our Lord appeared to Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque. He exposed His heart and He said, Behold the heart that has loved men so much and has been loved so little in return. All He is waiting for is for us to love Him in return. Look at Him right there in the tabernacle, right there in the Blessed Sacrament. How much time have we spent with Him? How much have we loved Him? Look at what He does for us. He is giving Himself entirely to us in the Blessed Sacrament. He is giving Himself entirely for us on the Cross. He holds absolutely nothing back from us. Zero. He has given it all. And what have we given Him in return? That is the real question, not “Does God love us,” because He has proven His love for us, as Saint Paul makes very clear in the second reading. The question is “Do we love God and what have we done to prove that love?”
God loves you. God has chosen you to be His own special possession, dearer to Him than all the people on the face of the earth. Now Love awaits your response.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.