July 24, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I (1 Kings 3:5, 7-12) Reading II (Romans 8:28-30)
Gospel (St. Matthew 13:44-52)
In the Gospel reading today, Our Lord tells us that the kingdom of God is something that is hidden, hidden like a buried treasure, or hidden like a pearl. It is something that has been planted within and yet requires an amount of work on our part to be able to find it. Saint Paul told us in the second reading today that those whom God foreknew He also predestined, and those He predestined He also called, and those He called He also justified, and those He justified He also glorified. What that means is that God has called each and every one of us to Himself, and in baptism He has justified us. To be justified means to be made righteous; all of our sins were forgiven and we were given grace, the very life of God, so that we would be able to do His Will.
If we are going to be glorified, that means we have to do our part. God has done everything for us. He has planted into our hearts that seed of faith, that seed which is His own life: sanctifying grace. Now it is up to us to make it grow. If we are going to remain in the state of righteousness, it means we have to make sure that we are overcoming sin, that we are making use of the sacraments, that we are getting to Confession, that we are making sure that sin is off of our souls and the grace of God is firmly implanted within.
But it means much more than just that, as we can see in the first reading, for instance, when God appears to Solomon and says, Ask for anything that you want. Just stop and ask yourself for a second, "What would your answer be if God appeared to you right now and said, ‘Ask for anything in the world, anything that you want’?" Go ahead. Just let your imagination run for a moment and ask yourself, "What would I tell God that I wanted more than anything else, if I had the opportunity?" The tragedy for most of us is that whatever we would ask for is something that is entirely selfish. Now some of us might try to justify ourselves by saying, "Well, I would ask for millions of dollars so that I could do some nice things for other people." That, of course, is after you take the millions for yourself that you want, then with what is left over you would do for others. That is not the way God would be looking for things.
If we are going to be made righteous in the sight of God, there is only one way. Jesus made very clear what it is that we need to do. He said that we have to love God and we have to love our neighbor. In other words, it is about service – it is not about the self. If we are caught up in ourselves, number one, we are not seeking the buried treasure; we are seeking only the self. We need to work at not only trying to uncover that buried treasure, but to develop it, to perfect it. Just think, if the man in the Gospel reading today dug up a buried treasure, he is going to have to clean it off; it is going to be full of dirt. The same is true with the pearl. It does not come out in perfect condition; you have to clean it off. So there are elements to this whole situation. First, we have to go inside to be able to find the treasure. Then, we have to work at getting rid of everything that is making the treasure less precious. We have to get rid of the dirt.
So it is not enough just to remain in the state of grace, because that is completely minimalistic. It is a matter of trying to grow in holiness. Again, think of what happened with Solomon. God blessed Solomon greatly because he asked for wisdom and for understanding. But then, because of lack of prayer and because of his sinful practices, not only did he forego the wisdom but he actually used the gifts of God for his own destruction. We could do the exact same thing. God can give us the most extraordinary gifts, but we can use them for the wrong reason. Unless we are praying, we are not going to be able to see how God wants us to use what He has given us. More than that, there are two things that we need to pray for beyond all else. Number one is humility and number two is charity. The two of them work together. If we do not have humility, we are going to get caught up in ourselves. So we need to make sure that whatever it is God has given us, as far as the talents and abilities go, that it is first of all tempered through humility and charity so that it will be able to be used the way God intended it.
If we are seeking virtue instead of riches or instead of something selfish, if we are seeking holiness and trying to do God's Will, that is when the justice that God has planted within our hearts is going to bear fruit. If we are seeking to do God's Will, then we will be glorified. The glory of God in this life is to share in His suffering. You can, again, just simply ask yourself, "If God asked for anything at all, how many of us would say, 'Suffering. I want to share in the Cross of Christ'?" Most of us would pray that the suffering would go away. We do not really want to share in the glory of Christ. Oh, we like the idea of heaven; we do not like the idea of what it takes to get there. Remember, there is only one way to get to heaven, and that is the Cross.
We can also think about what Our Lord told us, that for those who do not want to do it His way, in the end the angels are going to separate the good from the bad, and the bad are going to be thrown into a fiery furnace where they will wail and grind their teeth. If we just think about all the whining and complaining we have heard over the last couple of weeks because the temperature is near 100°, you have not seen anything by comparison to hell. You would long for a day when it is was 100° if you were in hell, because that would be like being in air-conditioned comfort. God allows some of these awful temperatures to remind us that there are places that are hotter and for eternity. We do not want to be there. If you do not like the temperature the way it is, then make sure you keep yourself growing in holiness, because if we are not growing in holiness then we are going to use God’s gifts wrongly. We are going to use them selfishly, and they will be, then, to our own demise just like it was with Solomon.
But Saint Paul tells us in the second reading that all things work together for the good for those who love God. If we can see things in the proper perspective, if we can even accept the difficulties and the trials of life to recognize that these are the things which temper us, which help us to grow in holiness, the things that are going to make us more Christ-like and are going to clean off the dirt that is on that buried treasure so it is even more glorious than it was before, these are the things, then, that we would rejoice in. All things work together for the good of those who love God.
So the real question that we need to look at in the depths of our own hearts is, how much do I love God? How much do I accept the difficulties and trials of life because I’m looking at God? If I am looking at Him, then I am going to be able to see things in a different perspective. If I am looking at myself, then I am going to be angry and frustrated and upset because it is not going the way I want it to go. Once again, what we see are the two eternal possibilities and how we prepare for them in this life. Heaven is going to be looking at God for the rest of eternity. Hell is looking at our own self for the rest of eternity. It is miserable to look at our own selves in this life. Think how much more miserable it will be to be focused on ourselves for eternity!
If we want to be able to go to heaven, we need to begin preparing now. Again, just hold up the example of the wisest man who has ever lived on the face of the earth. If you read a little bit further on, you will find that Solomon became the biggest fool in the history of the world because he used the wisdom of God for his own selfishness. He took his eyes off of God and he focused on himself. Therefore, he used what God gave him to his own demise. If that is going to happen to the man with the greatest wisdom in the world, what will happen to us who are far less endowed with extraordinary gifts? How much more easy it will be for us to fall if we take our eyes off of God!
And so we have some wonderful lessons placed before us today. First of all, the lesson that we need to keep focused, that we need to continue to grow in holiness, that it is not enough to maintain the absolute minimum. How tragic it is to see the magnets on people’s refrigerators and bumper stickers on their cars that say, “How much can I get away with and still get to heaven”! What a horrible attitude, to see if you can push the edge constantly: “As long as I’m not in the state of mortal sin, let me edge right up to it.” If you play with fire, you are going to get burned. Unfortunately, in this case the fire is an eternal one and we do not want to be there. We need to make sure that we are growing in holiness, that we are getting rid of sin, that we are striving for the righteousness of Christ. We need to make sure that we are working to unearth the treasure the Lord has buried within our hearts and souls, and that we are therefore doing everything we can to polish it, to get rid of all the dirt and all of the stuff that is on it or keeping it from shining the way that it should. Those are the areas of imperfection in our lives, so we need to grow in virtue, we need to grow in holiness, we need to grow in our conformity to Jesus Christ.
That only happens in prayer. It is in prayer that we grow in our love for God, and it is there that we can look right back to the first line of the second reading: All things work together for those who love God. Loving God is not a matter of saying, “Oh, yeah, I love Him. Sure, I do.” Prove it. The proof is in the prayer. If you are not living a life of prayer and of virtue, you do not love God. It does not matter how much lip service we give Him, the reality is going to be proven in our actions. If you love somebody, you want to be with them. If you love someone, you serve them. If you love someone, you want to get rid of anything that is offensive to that person. So how much do we really love God? It is going to be calculated by how much we are really praying, how much we are trying to grow in virtue, how much we are trying to become more like the One Whom we love.
Now we can really ask ourselves, “Do I truly love God?” If our answer to that is at least that we want to, then we need to spend the time, we need to unearth that buried treasure, we need to clean it off, and we need to make sure that the love of God is shining within our hearts. When we are focused on God and our focus is solely on Him instead of on ourselves, then everything is going to be seen in another light. Then we will see how God uses all things for our good, and we will recognize that not only have we been called by Him individually and justified by Him, but then we will be prepared to be glorified with Him – to be glorified in this life by a share in the Cross, and to be glorified in the next life with the glory of the face to face vision of the eternal love of Almighty God.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.