Sunday Sermon for August 17, 2014, the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Readings: Is 56:1, 6-7; Rom 11:13-15, 29-32; Mt 15:21-28
In the first reading God says through the Prophet Isaiah that we are to observe what is right and do what is just. This is certainly nothing new; for Christian people it is supposed to be what our lives are all about. What is interesting about these words of the Lord, however, is the context in which He places them: My salvation is about to come, My justice about to be revealed.

Perhaps this is not as stark as our colloquial manner of speaking when someone is preparing to die and we say that they have to get their house in order. Nonetheless, it is a pretty serious statement and a call from God to look at our lives and make the necessary changes. For the people of Israel who were given the message, it meant that they would be returning soon to their homeland and that God would execute justice on their oppressors. But it was still a call for the people to amend their lives.

In the larger context, we can certainly understand the statement about salvation in the context of the Messiah. God’s justice was indeed revealed in Jesus, particularly on the Cross. It is also on the Cross that reconciliation with God was achieved and that we were called to union with the Lord.

This is the reconciliation St. Paul speaks of in the second reading when he talks about the disobedience of the Jewish people being the means by which God brought about the reconciliation of the world. Although the disobedience of the People of God caused the crucifixion, it also brought mercy for us and for them. As St. Paul says, the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable. This is true for the Jewish people and for us. Praise God!

Like the people of Israel at the time of Isaiah, so we today are being tested in our faith. It seems that hardly a week goes by without some new scandal or major problem for the Church. This is, to say the least, affecting the people and the priests in a severe manner. Some of the Israelites chose to leave the Lord and become like the pagans around them. We are dealing with similar problems.

However, we have to see it all as a blessing. First of all, there is a point of admitting that we deserve what we get. I realize that there are many innocent people being negatively affected by the sad and tragic events going on in the Church today. But if we can see this from a spiritual perspective, we can see it all as a blessing. God loves these people so much that He is allowing their faith to be tested.

This test is not an end in itself; rather, it is a means to a far greater end. God not only wants our faith to be strengthened, which can only happen when it is tested, but more than this, He wants us to become holy. Once again, this can only happen when we are purified. This kind of purification will result in our observing what is right and doing what is just; this is exactly what the Church and the world need right now.

Unfortunately for us, this can only happen when we become humble. This was the point of God allowing the people of Israel to go into exile; it is also the point of His allowing us to be tested and purified. Until we become like the woman in the Gospel reading today who was willing to accept her nothingness, but still plead for the good of another, we cannot say that we are truly observing what is right and doing what is just.

Most of the time we are seeking our own interest rather than really acting in charity, which seeks the good of another. How much love for souls do we really have? Are we willing to put others before ourselves? Do we really desire the conversion of sinners and the salvation of souls or does this mean very little to us?

Just as the words spoken by Isaiah foretold a major change for the people of Israel, I think it is impossible not to recognize that the events that have been happening in people’s lives and in the Church signify a major change for the Church. This will not be a change of doctrine or liturgy; it will be a change to being truly holy, being zealous for God and for souls, being the leaven in the world.

This is the call God has given to each of us. Most of us, I am afraid, have to confess our disobedience. But thanks be to God that His call is irrevocable. Pray for the grace to cooperate with God and to become holy.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit