Sunday Sermon for October 29, 2017, the Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Readings: Ex 22:20-26; 1 Thes 1:5c-10; Mt 22:34-40
In the second reading today St. Paul reminds the Thessalonians about the nature of their conversion. They had turned from idols to worship the Living and True God. By itself that is wonderful, but it becomes extraordinary when we hear that their conversions took place in the midst of great affliction. Even more, these people were filled with joy from the Holy Spirit.
As we watch so many fall away from the one true Faith, we need to make sure of where we stand in our own relationship with God. Do we need a greater or deeper conversion? The word conversion means to turn. Given the nature of our society, have we strayed in any manner away from the Lord? If so, we need to turn ourselves back so we are looking directly at Him.
Perhaps our prayer life has slipped or perhaps it has become rote. Maybe we have fallen away from frequent confession. Could it be that I am not uniting myself with the sacrifice of Jesus when I am at Mass? Are there areas of sin that we are justifying because it has become commonplace, because the media tells us that it is okay, because my sins do not seem so bad compared to the sins of others, or whatever other excuse we find to rationalize our wrongdoing?
In the first reading the Lord tells the Israelites through Moses that their faith has to be demonstrated in and through their actions. The area of moral theology is all about relationships: first with God, then with others. God tells the people of Israel about treating others with charity and respect. This includes aliens, orphans, widows, and the poor.
In our country today there is a lot of consternation about immigration and allowing certain people into the country; the same is true in Europe. One can and should have a position on policies, even if it directly contradicts what the government has determined. However, when it comes to how we treat these people, we must always maintain charity and respect. This would seem to be fairly simple and straightforward, but it is not always as easy as it seems.
One of the things that happens in times of war as well as in situations where we are in conflict with other people for whatever reason, is that we often dehumanize them. We use degrading names which tend to make individuals or groups of people into objects; all of this violates their human dignity. They are human persons whom we must treat with respect, even if we do not like them, disagree with them, or reject the notion that they have a right to be here. Even if they are in the country illegally and have no legal right to be here, they still have the same rights as any human person to be acknowledged as persons and treated with respect.
We have to be clear about what this means and what it does not mean. It does not mean that I agree with the person or that I like the person. It does not mean that I have to accept the government’s policies or claim that someone who is in the country illegally has some kind of inherent right to be present. None of these kinds of things is correct. However, it is always correct to treat someone with charity and respect.
Of course, everything I have said is predicated on the fact that every human person is made in the image and likeness of God and, therefore, has inherent dignity which must be respected. In our society God has been rejected and ushered out. It is literally impossible for people who adhere to such ideas to even recognize the dignity of a person let alone treat them with dignity. It is impossible because if God does not exist, then our dignity, which comes from God, does not exist. We cannot be made in the image and likeness of God if God does not exist.
This is why, as our Lord instructs us in the Gospel, we must love God with our whole heart, soul, and strength. If we only love God half-heartedly, we will only see the dignity of others half-heartedly. The more we love God, the more we will see everything in Him. We will see as He sees and act as He acts. This being the case, we can look at how we think of and treat others and that will tell us how much we are truly loving God. If we notice that we are not loving others as we should, then we need to pray for a deeper conversion so that we can love and serve the Living and True God and all who are made in His image and likeness – ourselves included!
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 www.thewandererpress.com.