Monday November 28, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier First Week of Advent
Reading (Isaiah 2:1-5) Gospel (St. Matthew 8:5-11)
Our Lord in the Gospel reading today tells us there are going to be many who are going to be in the kingdom of heaven, from the east and the west and the north and the south. The point He is making here is that the Jewish people at that time thought they could be the only ones saved, and the Lord is pointing out that here this pagan centurion had more faith than anyone He had ever come across in Israel. We have to then look at what it was this man did that Our Lord would say such a thing.
It was the faith that God’s word had power. Now this is something that all of us, of course, are going to acknowledge. If we were to take a poll of everyone here and say, “Does anyone here believe that God can do anything He wants,” we would all say “yes.” Do we believe that God is going to do anything for us personally? Are you kidding! There is no way we are going to believe that for a minute. Why? There is our problem. This centurion had faith. All he had to do was say to Jesus, Just say the word and my servant will be healed. We have probably all gone to prayer and said something similar: “Lord, all You need to do is say the word.” The fact is we really do not believe He is going to; consequently, nothing is going to happen because the faith is lacking. It is not a lack in the objective faith, that is, we know He has the power to do it. We will all readily acknowledge that He has that power, but it is the subjective faith that is lacking. We really do not believe it–for ourselves, that is–so that is where our trouble comes.
Then we need to look beyond and say, “Well, if we have to be able to do this, what does the prophet tell us in the first reading?” He tells us that all of the nations are going to stream toward this mountain of the Lord, Who is Jesus Christ, because from there, he says, we are going to receive instruction and we will be able to walk in His paths. That is what we have to do. We have to come to Jesus to be able to receive the instruction for our souls. We have to walk in His path. What is His instruction, but truth? What is the path, but the way? So who is the way and the truth, as well as the life? It is Jesus Himself. We see this laid out for us, exactly what is going to be happening. If we want to be able to have salvation, if we want to be able to have that kind of faith that the centurion had, it means we have to come to Christ, to have that kind of faith to be able to walk in His path, to have the faith to hear His instruction and put it into practice.
The practical part is the difficulty, as we have mentioned already. We all believe in His instruction, but we do not put it into practice. We need to get it out of theory and we need to get very practical about the instruction. We are told that we are to learn from His instruction and walk in His path to climb the mountain of the Lord, not just to sit silently and soak it up, but we have to do something with it. The Lord is asking us if we are willing to put forth the effort; the effort, number one, to learn the faith, the objective elements of it (these are the things the Church teaches, and so on); but then if we are willing to walk it, to put it into practice, to be like this centurion who made the effort to come to Our Lord but was also absolutely confident in what the Lord could and would do for him. He received what he was asking for because of his faith. That faith, as we are told, was greater than anyone in Israel and it assured this man a seat in heaven.
If we look at our own selves, we can say, “Look at all the people out in the world. How many call themselves Christian? How many call themselves Catholic? How many really live the faith that they profess to live?” As Our Lord told the people long ago: Prostitutes and tax collectors are entering the kingdom of heaven before you. That is something all of us need to think about. If the pagans, in this case, have more faith than those who believe, than those to whom the truth has been revealed (the Jewish people, in this case), that pattern has not changed. If there is somebody with faith, true faith–not just this gushy feeling: “You know, I believe in Jesus,” that is not going to get anyone anywhere; but it is to believe absolutely in everything that Jesus is and teaches and to put it into practice–it is that which is going to save them. So it is not that any one of us has the market cornered and can think that because we have some knowledge of the truth we are going to have an automatic “in” to heaven. The more we know, the more we are going to be responsible for.
We have an obligation to come to the Lord, to learn from Him, to learn what the Church teaches, but then we have an obligation to take it to the next step, to get it out of our heads and put it into practice so that we are living what we profess, so that the theory becomes very practical and the truth becomes a lived reality. That is what Jesus is looking for in each one of us. And if He finds that truth being lived in us, if He finds the faith being put into practice, then we are going to be guaranteed a place in heaven. Anything short of that, there is not a guarantee. So that is what we have to be about: learning the truth, walking in the way, and bringing that to the fullness of life.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.