October 10, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Romans 1:1-7) Gospel (St. Luke 11:29-32)
Our Lord in the Gospel reading today tells us that He Himself is the sign for our generation and that He is calling us to conversion. Just as the people of Nineveh listened when Jonah preached, and just as the queen of the south was willing to come all the way from Ethiopia to Israel to hear the words of Solomon, so too, He says, this is similar to what we are to do. But even with that we can say, “Well, what exactly does it mean?” It means exactly what we hear in the first reading today. Saint Paul, speaking to the Romans, says to them that they are called to the obedience of faith, to bring about the obedience of faith. In fact, if we want to know what it is to say that there is an obedience of faith, he starts out in the very first words of this particular letter: Paul, a slave of Jesus Christ… That is what it means to have an obedience of faith: to be a slave of Jesus Christ.
Now we tend to look at that in very negative terms. We think of slavery in the horrendous way that slavery was forced upon certain people in this country, but that is not what this is about. It is not a forced slavery, it is not a slavery of constraint, but rather it is a slavery of love. It is freely chosen and it is the fulfillment of love. If you think about what a married couple vows to one another when they make a vow to love, it is a vow to serve one another every day for the rest of their lives. They have chosen a voluntary slavery to put themselves completely at the service of the other person. If that is what happens in marriage, how much more should it be with God. And so what we do is to make ourselves voluntary slaves of Our Lord, to be willing to say that He Who is Love deserves to be loved. And what is love? It is serving the other. It is seeking the good of the other. He has made Himself a slave to us and He serves us. In return, we make ourselves a slave to Him by serving Him.
Still, if our interior is rebelling at this point thinking that being a slave sounds like it is somehow beneath our dignity and that it is not what we are supposed to be about, all we need to do is think about what it really means. You were created to love. It is just that simple. All that is being asked is that we would love. So if you want to take away the notion of being a slave, all you need to do is say that we are being asked to love. That does not mean we are being asked to have gushy feelings towards God; that is not what it is about. It means we are called to serve, to do His Will, to seek His good. Once again, in case we think that it is beneath our dignity, all we have to do is look at Saint Paul’s Letter to the Philippians where Saint Paul tells us that Jesus became a slave. That was not beneath His dignity–why do we think it is beneath ours? He took the form of a slave and He came to serve even to the point of going to the Cross. He was obedient. All that is being asked is that we would be obedient to our own selves, to our own creation; not to our fallen nature that says, “Be obedient to sin,” but to what God created us for, and that is to love. This is in no way against our dignity, but rather this exults our dignity more than anything because it is precisely the purpose for which we were created. It is to die to self in order to live for another. In this case, the other is God, Who loves us perfectly.
And so if we would not see it being beneath our dignity to offer ourselves in marriage to serve another person, why would we ever see it beneath our dignity to serve God, to love God? That is all that is being asked. Jesus is the sign to us. He is the One Who came into this world and took the form of a slave. He was obedient, as Saint Paul continues in that same canticle to the Philippians, obedient even unto death, death on a cross. He is the One Who teaches us what it is to love. He is the sign for us, the sign of what it is that each one of us is called to, the sign to be able to reject sin and embrace our own dignity, to love as God created us to love. And what is it to love? It is to be brought into the obedience of faith, to live what we profess, to be voluntary slaves of love of Jesus Christ.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.