Friday June 17, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (2 Corinthians 11:18, 21-30) Gospel (St. Matthew 6:19-23)
Our Lord tells us in the Gospel reading that we are to store up for ourselves treasure in heaven, and Saint Paul lays out for us what some of these treasures are, the things that he would boast of as being the greatest things he has. He was whipped; he was beaten; he was stoned; he was shipwrecked. All the different things that had happened to him in his service of the Lord, these were the things he was boasting of. And he made very clear at the end of the reading today that if he is going to boast, it is going to be the things that demonstrate his weakness. The reason why he would boast of the things that demonstrate his weakness is because that is what demonstrates the strength of God, that the Lord is going to deliver us from all of the difficulties and the problems and all the sufferings of this life.
He did not anywhere even hint at the fact that if we were going to be his followers we would not have to suffer – just the opposite – and he made it absolutely clear. How anyone who calls himself a Christian can read the Scriptures and say, “Jesus wants me to have no suffering in my life, and He wants me to have things easy,” is entirely beyond me. How can they come to that conclusion? They obviously have not read the same Gospel as we have read.
Regardless, when the Lord tells us then that where our heart is there also will our treasure be, and vice versa, we really need to look at that. Saint Paul is boasting of his weakness. What do we do? Saint Paul boasts of the things that demonstrated that people did not like him because of his faith. How about us? We tend to boast of our accomplishments. We tend to boast of our money or our materialism or our positions or whatever it might be. These are the things, if anything, that demonstrate some sense of worldly power. Saint Paul is boasting of his weakness because God told him it is in weakness that power reaches its perfection.
So if we like to be focused on our strength, we have got it in the wrong place because then we are boasting about our own selves. If that is the case, then we are boasting about something that is going to pass away. Whether it is the moth eating it, rust destroying it, a thief stealing it, or whether it is just that as we get older and we decline we are not going to have the ability to do certain things anymore, whatever it might be, if we are boasting about something that is material or something that we ourselves are about, it is either going to decline or completely vanish.
If, on the other hand, our only boast is God, then it is going to remain forever because God is not going to weaken and He is not going to change and there will be no decay. God is perfect; He is all-powerful. That is the point Saint Paul is making. He said, If I’m going to boast, it’s going to be in the things that demonstrate my own weakness because there is nothing in me that I have to boast about, absolutely nothing. As Saint Paul would later say, Show me anything that you have that you did not receive; and if you have received it, why do you boast of it as if it is your own? If God has given you a gift, then why boast like it is something you have accomplished? It is all God, and that is where our boast needs to be if we are going to boast at all, which is foolishness as Saint Paul makes very clear in the reading today. What good does it do? We need to be humble, not arrogant. We need to be weak in our own estimation of ourselves and strong in our estimation of God.
These are not the things that come naturally to our fallen nature. We like to puff ourselves up and try to make sure that everyone knows we are something. Well, remember what Saint Paul said: God chose the ones who were nothing to put those who thought that they were something to shame. He did not pick you because you were the best, the strongest, the most impressive, or anything else. He picked you because you were just the opposite. So why do we boast as though somehow we are the former, when in fact we have to acknowledge the reality that we are weak, we are small, and there is nothing within ourselves that deserves boasting or credit.
It is God alone who deserves all of these things. When we acknowledge our own weakness, then we have to glory in His strength. And that is precisely what He is looking for because that can never go away. That is a treasure that is already in heaven, and that is what will be stored up for us: the glory of God. If we are willing to focus on that in this life, then that will be our focus for eternity. If we want to focus on ourselves in this life, then that will be our focus for eternity. The tragedy, of course, is that the latter will be in an entirely different place than the former. If we want to focus on ourselves, we spend eternity with Satan. If we want to focus on God, then where our heart is there is where our treasure is, and vice versa. The treasure is the glory of God, and that is where we need to set our hearts now so that they will be set there forever.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.