June 26, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I (2 Kings 4:8-11, 14-16a) Reading II (Romans 6:3-4, 8-11)
Gospel (St. Matthew 10:37-42)
First and foremost, it means charity, a life of Christian charity. Charity is the opposite of selfishness. We live in a society that is purely focused on the self. To die with Christ is to die to self, and to rise with Him is to love God and to love neighbor – it is to be selfless. This means that we have to put the Lord first. He makes that very clear in the Gospel reading today: Whoever loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. If it were anybody other than God saying that, we would say, “How arrogant and selfish can you be?” Imagine if you were to look at anyone in your family and say, “If you love anyone more than you love me, than you’re not worthy of me.” It is purely selfish, except when we are dealing with God because God is love. Because He loves us perfectly, He desires that we would love Him in return. And when we love God, we lose nothing because God desires, of course, only what is the very best for us.
Therefore, if we are putting God first and we are loving Him more than anything and anyone, what will happen is we will be able to love everyone even more. We will be able to love them purely and perfectly. If you want to love your spouse or your children or your friends more, then love God more. It is just that simple. We have this weird idea: “If I want to love the people around me more, then what I really need to do is spend more time with them and somehow spend less time, therefore, in prayer.” It is just the opposite. What we need to do is spend more time in prayer and spend more time serving the people around us and spend way less time on ourselves. That is the key. The biggest problem in growth to holiness is self. Therefore, we get in our own way. We are our own worst enemy because we are all caught up in ourselves.
Now there are some people for whom it is easy to be fairly charitable. The Lord tells us in the Gospel reading, for instance, that anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet receives a prophet’s reward, and anyone who receives a righteous man because he is righteous receives a righteous man’s reward. Well, how many of us know a prophet? How many of us know someone who is truly righteous? There are not very many, are there? But how many of us know a little one who is a disciple of Christ? We know many, many little ones who are disciples of Christ. How have we treated them? The Lord tells us that even the smallest act of charity, like giving them a cup of cold water, will not go without its reward.
We can see the way all of this works in the first reading. We have this Shunemite woman who receives the prophet Elisha into her home. Elisha would oftentimes stop by as he was traveling past that home, so the woman out of pure charity says to her husband, “Let’s fix a little spot for him up on the roof. We’ll put a bed and a table and a chair and a lamp up there for him, and then when he comes here he will have a place to stay.” It is a room just for him. In the little couple of verses that were taken out of the reading today, Elisha calls the woman and asks her, “What can I do for you?” She did not ask for anything. She was not looking for anything in return; it was purely out of charity that she did what she did for Elisha. So Elisha then calls his servant and says, “What can we do for her?” That is when Elisha is told that she does not have a son and her husband is getting along in years. Therefore, Elisha calls the woman and tells her, “This time next year you will have a son.” She did not do this for a reward, but the reward that God gave her was so far beyond anything she ever could have asked for.
So, too, for ourselves. We know that God is never going to be outdone in charity. His generosity is going to be hundreds of times greater than ours. But if we do something because we want a reward, the Lord reminds us that we have already received our reward. What God is looking for is true charity. Again, all we need to do is look at the One who is true charity itself – Our Lord. Just look at the Cross and ask yourself, “What did He get out of all this?” What He got out of it is us, not exactly something to write home about. However, it was purely out of love for us that He did it. He did not get anything for Himself. Having us does not make Him any happier than what He was. It does not make Him any greater than what He was. It does not add any perfection to Him that He did not already have. God gets nothing out of us. Yet He loves us so much that He was willing to become one of us and die for us. And then He tells us that anyone who is not willing to take up his cross and follow after the Lord is not worthy of the Lord. It is the same point: Anyone who is not willing to die to self, anyone who is not willing to give up the selfishness is not worthy of God.
Of course, we can see the immediate contradiction if we are looking for a reward: “I want to be able to see God. I want to go to heaven. I want the good life. I want to be with the Lord.” Those are all good things, but it’s all about me. “I, I, I, I … I want, I want, I want, I want…” Boy, if this wasn’t a Gospel written for Americans, I don’t know what is – and the Lord condemns it. We need to love God solely for the love of God, not for what we are going to get out of it. Remember, love is seeking the good of the other. God is love. God will always do what is the best for us. We do not need to worry about Him. He cannot do anything other than love, so we do not have to worry about what is coming from His side. We need to worry about what we are doing. Are we loving Him? To love is to be selfless. Are we loving God selflessly? Are we putting God first? That is the greatest commandment in the law, Jesus tells us, to love God with our whole heart and soul and strength and then to love our neighbor as ourselves. Are we doing that? Or are we at least striving to do that? That is what we have to be about.
Saint Paul tells us that in anything we do, whether we eat or drink or anything, to do it in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving glory to God the Father through Him. Unfortunately, in our wayward society, if we do things out of love for God and we do everything in the Name of Jesus Christ, people will think that we are crazy. Praise God, because once again you know that you are not doing it in order to get people’s recognition or approval. You know they are going to think you are weird. If you are going to live your life for Christ, you are not going to get all kinds of rewards from worldly people. You will get kicked, but you are not going to get rewarded by them. So you know it is not done out of selfishness in that way.
Then we need to make sure that we are continually working to die more and more to self in order to live for Christ, in order to live in that newness of life. It is to die to sin. Every sin is an act of selfishness. Every last one is a selfish act. Therefore, we can simply examine our consciences and we can see how selfish we are by looking at our own sinfulness. A person who loves does not sin. Therefore, if we achieve perfection in this life, that is, if we love God and neighbor perfectly, there will be no more sin. When there is no more sin, then we are truly righteous.
Once again, we can ask ourselves: How many truly righteous people do any of us know? Probably none. How many prophets do we know? Probably none. So it is not a matter of seeking greatness by doing something kind for somebody who is great and thinking that we are going to get a reward for it. The Lord asks us to look to the little ones, to seek charity in the people around us. It starts within your own family: your spouse, your children, your parents, your brothers and sisters. Treat them with true charity. But charity flows only from our relationship with God. Therefore, it is first and foremost to put prayer as the priority, to make sure we are developing that unity with God, that relationship with Him, and that we are seeking to do His Will; which means we have to know His Will before we can do it, and that comes, once again, only in prayer. Then from that relationship with God flows the love for those around us. As we grow in that relationship with God and as we take up our cross, then more and more we die to self and we are conformed to Jesus Christ, which means that we rise to newness of life. We die to sin in order to live for God, and that is precisely what we are called to do.
It is not easy, but if we think about selfishness, it is not going to be easy to die to self because it is so deeply ingrained within us that it is not going to go away easily – even if we want it to. So we have to pray for it and we have to work at it and we have to recognize the necessity to die to self by loving God and loving neighbor. When we can do that, then we have truly risen to newness of life. We have died to sin so that we can live for Jesus Christ.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.