Friday December 16, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Third Week of Advent
Reading (Isaiah 56:1-3a, 6-8) Gospel (St. John 5:33-36)
In the first reading today, the prophet Isaiah tells us that God is going to gather to Himself many foreigners, which is exactly what He has done in His Church. But then he goes on to speak about who these people are: those, he says, who keep the Sabbath free from profanation and keep their hands from evildoing.
Now this first point of keeping the Sabbath free from profanation is a point that has been rather lost on most Americans. The Sabbath day, the Lord’s Day on Sunday, is almost never free from profanation in the lives of most Americans these days. This is the point that God is making.
Remember that the first three commandments are the ones that are the most important because they are the ones that deal directly with God. The next seven deal with our relationships with human beings. So when we look at those first three commandments, that is what we are supposed to be doing. First, to love God because He is the only One and there is no other, to make sure that we are worshiping Him, which, again, is exactly what we hear about in the first reading, that they will minister to Him and they will love Him.
Then, of course, to make sure that we are not using the Lord’s name in vain, which is another major problem in society today and also among Catholics, even among those who want to call themselves “devout” Catholics. The name of Our Lord pops out of their mouths in the most unfortunate of ways, who knows how many times in a day. What a tragedy, that we are to love God above all else with our whole heart and soul and strength, and we would use the Lord’s name that way. I oftentimes say to the kids in school when I am going through an examination of conscience with them, “Just think. Would you use your mother’s name that way? If you wanted to let somebody know how angry you were, if you were shocked or surprised, if you wanted to emphasize something, would you put your mother’s name in where you just put the Lord’s name?” We certainly would not. We love our mothers too much to do such a thing. So what does that tell us about how much we love God, that we would use His name to express our anger, our surprise, to emphasize something in a most negative way? How often do we use His name?
And then the Third Commandment: to keep the Sabbath holy. We are not to be doing servile work on Sunday. We are not to be shopping on Sunday. We are not to be doing all of the ordinary things on Sunday. It is a family day. It is a day for studying the Faith. It is a day for prayer and a day for recreation. It is not another day for work. And above all, it is not supposed to be another day for all of the sporting events and all of the different things that they have decided to put on Sunday because it is a day that is more convenient for people. “After all, we’re too busy on the other six days, so we need to pack Sunday morning with all kinds of sporting events.” All that does is keep people from going to church, and they profane the Sabbath. Yet it has become so commonplace that nobody pays a bit of attention to it. You drive down the freeway on Sundays and you see the farmers out working. Most stores are open on Sundays now. A lot of factories and other places are open on Sundays. All kinds of people doing all sorts of things on Sunday that are forbidden by God.
The Lord makes very clear that whoever keeps the Sabbath free from profanation and holds to His covenant, those are the people, He says, that He will bring to His holy mountain and make them joyful in His house of prayer, and they will offer acceptable sacrifices to the Lord. How acceptable is our sacrifice when we come before the Lord, having put false gods before Him, using His name in a vain way, and profaning the Sabbath? But then we want to come before Him and say, “But aren’t You happy that I’m here at Mass offering sacrifice to You?” How happy is He going to be about that?
We are to keep the Covenant, we are to keep His name holy, and we are to keep the Sabbath without profanation. Then we will be joined to the Lord. Then we will be joyful in His house of prayer. Then our sacrifices will be acceptable to the Lord. When we think about it, just hear again what the Lord tells us is going to be the reward for those who do this: He says, My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. To be able to come to the Lord and be united with Him in prayer, that is what He is offering to us, which, once again, is the very thing that so many of us do not like to do. So we do the things we are not supposed to do and we do not do the things we are supposed to do, but God is supposed to be happy with us. Why? Why would He? He has laid out for us very clearly exactly what we are supposed to do and what we are not supposed to do. It is up to us now to choose to do what is right, to keep ourselves from evildoing, not only the evildoing of the latter seven Commandments, but the worst of the evildoing which is the violation of the first three; and to make sure that once we are following the commandments of God that we then follow up, that is, that we come to His house of prayer and we unite ourselves to Him in the depths of our being.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.