Tuesday March 6, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier First Tuesday in Lent
Reading (Isaiah 55:10-11) Gospel (St. Matthew 6:7-15)
* The following homily was given at a parish mission in Breckenridge, MN
In the first reading today, we hear God speaking through the prophet Isaiah and he says, "Just as the rain and the snow come down from Heaven and do not return there until they have given seed to the sower and bread to the eater ... so shall My word be that comes forth from My mouth. It will not return to Me empty, but will achieve the end for which I sent it." Saint John of the Cross said that God spoke one Word in the silence of eternity. "And the Word became flesh and He dwelt among us" (John 1:14). That Word, of course, is Jesus Christ. He is the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Word of God from all eternity. As Saint John says, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1:1). That is the Word that was spoken by our Heavenly Father. When you look at the Scriptures, for instance, and see that there are a thousand or so pages of Scripture, you recognize that everything that is written down there is about one Word. Every single word in the Bible is about Jesus Christ. It either leads up to Him if it is in the Old Testament, or it is specifically about His life if it is one of the Gospels, or it is a reflection upon the life of Christ and the early Church if it is in the Epistles of the New Testament. It is all about Our Lord. So no matter what can be said, all that needs to be said is: Jesus. It is for this reason that Our Lord can tell us in the Gospel that when we pray we are not to rattle on like the pagans who think that they are going to gain a hearing by the multiplication of their words. All that we need, ultimately, is one Word because there is only one Word and that is Jesus. All we need to do when we pray is not to go on and on. Somehow, we have the idea that if we try hard enough or if we pray long enough weíre going to convince God to change His mind. It isnít going to work. God will never change His mind on anything because He is perfect. He knows what is the very best. Jesus tells us that when we pray we are to pray as He taught us.
So He gave us the Our Father. If you look at the Our Father, you will find that in seven little, tiny petitions every single thing that you could ever ask for in the entire course of your life is contained right there. Everything is contained in the Our Father. We have to trust. The Lord is making very clear to us that God hears our prayer. We donít need to worry that maybe He didnít hear us and so we need to keep going with it because Heís not paying attention. My mother always taught us that if you want to know whether or not God is listening to your prayer, pray for suffering or pray for humility. You will find out very quickly that, indeed, He heard your prayer. And He answers it quickly. We need to keep that trust. It doesnít mean that we canít pray for the same thing over and over. But what it does mean is that we canít just sit there and rattle off. We need to pay very close attention to the words that we speak. Sometimes we come in and pray and after about half an hour we stop and say, "What was I just asking the Lord for? What was I just talking about?" We really couldnít say because we werenít paying much attention, we were just rattling on. Think of the story of St. Teresa of Avila: There was this little woman who came and she wanted to be a nun. St. Teresa says, "Well, do you pray?" She says, "Yes, but I donít think that you really want me here." St.Teresa says, "Why not?" "Because I only know one prayer." "What prayer is that?" "Itís the Our Father." "How long does it take you to pray it?" "Four hours." "Oh, you can come right in. Thatís fine, we have a place for you." So the next time you pray the Our Father in about five seconds, think about this little nun...four hours to pray the Our Father. Just think about those words, really pray about those words, and let them sink deeply into your heart, into your mind, into the very fiber of your being. Just think, you could get lost for days just pondering the idea that God is Our Father.
We need to make a highlight of the one point that Jesus highlighted: He said that we will not be forgiven unless we forgive. Only to the degree that we are willing to forgive, are we going to be forgiven. We talked last night about the forgiveness of sins, what God does to our souls. We need to do the same. When we recognize how merciful God is to us, how can we turn around and refuse that same mercy to someone else? How can we hold someone else in contempt when we think that we can just come, confess our sins and have them gone? We have to remember, our sins are sins against God. When we come to the Lord and ask for mercy, we are coming to the Lord, recognizing that the gravity of our sin is infinite, and God is going to wipe it out. When somebody sins against us, we are finite. So the gravity of their sin against us is finite. Yet, we hold grudges, we donít want to forgive, and we feel justified in being angry. When we expect that God will forgive an infinite offense, why do we refuse to forgive a finite offense? If we are truly going to be children of Our Heavenly Father, we must forgive. Reflect upon what it means to call God "Our Father". Jesus says, "Your Heavenly Father allows the rain to come down on the good and the evil. He allows the sun to shine on the just and the unjust. If you are going to be children of your Heavenly Father, you must do the same. Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you, be kind to those whom you donít like." All those things are not easy for us, but that is how we will show that we are truly children of our Heavenly Father. Then that Word which is planted within us, the Word of God - Jesus Christ, will bear fruit and will not return to our Heavenly Father empty, but will indeed achieve the end for which He sent Him.
Note: Father Altier does not prepare his homilies in advance, but relies solely upon the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.