Friday July 22, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Exodus 20:1-17) Gospel (St. Matthew 13:18-23)
In the Gospel reading today, Our Lord tells us that the person upon whom the seed falls that provides good soil for the seed to grow is the one who will bear fruit, is the one who understands the Word of God and puts it into practice. Now we need to look at this very carefully because we have lots of people who like to run around and tell us that they are what they call "Bible Christians," that they are rooted in the Word of God, and yet they twist it all over the place to make it say something that it does not necessarily say.
To understand the meaning of Scripture is not always the easiest thing to do. For instance, we look at the first reading today and we hear the commandments. You can look, for instance, at the Sixth Commandment, which says, You shall not commit adultery. If we took this just by the letter of the law, then of the saint whose feast we celebrate today, Saint Mary Magdalene, who was herself a prostitute, we would have to say that unless she was with married men she was not sinning because all it says is You shall not commit adultery. Well, we know that it means more than just explicit adultery. Of course, what she was doing was entirely wrong, as are a whole variety of other sins against purity. But if one simply looks at what the letter of the law says, it just simply says, You shall not commit adultery.
You can look at the First Commandment and see how people have twisted that. We, as Catholics, are accused of all kinds of idol worship because we have statues and images – after all, the First Commandment, they tell us, condemns that. Well, let us look carefully at what the First Commandment says. First of all, it says, You shall not make an image for yourself of anything in the sky above, on the earth below, or in the waters beneath the earth. I challenge you to go into the home of any so-called Bible Christian and you will see all kinds of images of things in the sky above, on the earth, or in the sea. They will have pictures on their walls. They will have little statues of birds, or fish, or whatever it might be, in their house just as decorations. They also use money which has graven images of human beings on the front of it. Every one of our coins and every one of our bills has a picture or an image of a human being. According to their interpretation of the First Commandment, that would be idol worship.
But it says, You shall not bow down and worship them. It does not say that you cannot make any image of anything, period. It says that you shall not make these images and bow down before them. We do not worship statues or pictures. The statues and pictures are there to remind us of the person whom they represent. It is absolutely no different than if one your Fundamentalist friends has a picture of his wife or her husband or their children in their wallet. Idol worship! They are looking at these pictures and thinking about their spouse or their children. Would any one of them say, "No, this picture really is my wife (or my husband or my child); therefore, I can honor this picture because this is the person"? No, it is an image of the person, and they would all acknowledge that. So why, suddenly, when you walk into a Catholic church, is a statue a graven image? We do not think that statue is the person. We do not pray to a statue. If anyone actually prays to a statue and thinks that the statue is going to answer his or her prayers, yes, you are guilty of violating the First Commandment. But we do not pray to a statue or a picture. Just like for anyone else, the stature or the picture simply reminds us of the person who is represented. We pray to the person represented by the picture or the statue.
When we want to take Scripture and twist it, it is a very easy thing to do. You can make Scripture say anything you want it to say. That is not the kind of soil the Lord is looking for. He is looking for one who hears and understands the Word of God, not one who twists it to say whatever they think it ought to say, not someone who twists it to say what they want it to say, but rather one who understands what the Word of God actually says and puts it into practice. That is what God is looking for. We need to make sure we are steeped in the Word of God, but we need to make sure we are understanding it properly.
The Church is the authentic interpreter of Sacred Scripture. It is for the Church to determine what is a proper interpretation and what is not, because we need someone beyond ourselves. If all we wanted to do was to make ourselves be an infallible source, then all of us could read the Scriptures and come up with our own conclusions. They would all be different and we would all be fighting and saying, "No, the Holy Spirit told me this was the real thing." We have heard all of that for the last 450 years. It does not work. The only thing that works is to go to the source: Jesus Christ, Who is the Word of God; Who, as we see in Luke 24, is the interpreter of Sacred Scripture. The Church is Jesus Christ; therefore, the Church is the authentic interpreter of Sacred Scripture. We need to make sure that our conclusions are in line with the teaching of the Church, that we do not go off on our own little tangent and twist the Scripture to our own demise, but that we open our hearts and our minds so that we hear and understand the Word of God, that we approach it humbly and prayerfully so that we can form ourselves according to the Word of God, and in so doing to bear fruit for the Lord, thirty, sixty, or a hundredfold.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.