Tuesday August 23, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (1 Thessalonians 2:1-8) Gospel (St. Matthew 23:23-26)
In the Gospel reading today, Our Lord condemns the Pharisees for focusing in on the very little points of the law while completely missing the bigger ones, and for making sure that the outside looked good but the problem still remained on the inside because it was not purified. Everything was done to look good externally instead of to look good internally. Now contrast that with what Saint Paul is telling the Thessalonians, that they came not with any kind of deceitful motive but they came to preach the Gospel of God. They were not interested in trying to flatter the people, but rather what they were interested in was making sure that what they said was pleasing to God. This is the huge difference: If we are going to live our lives for God, it means that the way we have to act is not just simply looking good on the outside, and by all means it is not trying to ingratiate ourselves to other people, but rather it is to seek fully the Will of God and to carry that out in our lives.
Even if somebody does not like it, we have to live and speak the truth. That is a problem for many of us. We shy away from the truth because we are afraid of being rejected, we are afraid of what people might think of us. So we do things to ingratiate ourselves to the people, but then all we need to do is stop and think of how we must be offending Our Lord if what we are doing is seeking to ingratiate ourselves not to Him but to the people. Saint Paul talked about the dignity that was theirs by being entrusted by God with the Gospel. You have that same dignity. Every last one of us has been entrusted by God with this Gospel, and each one of us is to bring it out into the world. But if what we do is simply try to make ourselves look good in front of other people then we are just like the Pharisees that Jesus is talking about in the Gospel. The outside looks real nice; the inside is not.
So we need to make sure that what we are striving for is to make the inside pure, because if the inside is pure and proper then what will happen automatically is that the outside is going to be the same. It will reflect what is happening on the inside. If we are in union with God, not only is the inside going to have that union, but the outside will reflect it by the way that we act and speak. But if all we are trying to do is impress people by the way that we look then the inside is still full of filth but all we are trying to do is put up a façade to cover it over.
We need to strive, as Our Lord said, for the weightier things of the law – judgment and mercy and fidelity; and ultimately, charity and humility – because that is what it is all about. If we are truly humble and we are truly charitable then these things that Our Lord points out are not a problem. Judgment has to do with God. Saint John tells us that fear has to do with judgment, but perfect love casts out all fear. If we have charity, we will not have to worry about that. The mercy, once again, is a matter of charity; fidelity, the same thing. If we are focused on trying to please others, we are not going to be faithful to God. The fidelity is gone. The mercy is not going to be there. So we need to look very, very seriously at our own selves to make sure that we are not being these hypocritical, scrupulous types that are gong to look at the little tiny points and get all upset about that while the big things are crashing down around us and we do not even notice. We need also to be careful to make sure that we are not putting up a façade to make ourselves look good on the outside while we are not really doing much of anything to make ourselves clean and pure on the inside.
That is what we have to be about, to really look inside, and again this can only happen in prayer. There is only one way that this can occur. If we are not praying, we are not going to be able to do this. And so we have to really want to love God and we have to truly have a love for God so that we will be willing to purify the inside, so that we will be willing to seek union with Him. And when we find that unity with God, the inside and the outside will both be clean and perfect, and then we will not focus so much on the little things. We will do the little things perfectly because everything will be in order, the order of the love of God Himself.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.