Wednesday March 14, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Second Week in Lent
Reading (Jeremiah 18:18-20) Gospel (St. Matthew 20:17-28)
In the first reading, we hear the prophet Jeremiah praying to the Lord and saying, "Must good always be repaid with evil?" Isnít that just the way it feels in our humanness? We try to do something good for other people, and what winds up happening is that we suffer. One would think that if we were really going to try to do some spiritual good for them, as Jeremiah says, "Remember, Lord. I stood before you on their behalf, to speak on their behalf that You would turn Your wrath away from them." Then we ask, "Why would God allow him to suffer?" Precisely because Jeremiah stood on their behalf to turn away Godís wrath. And if it was to turn away Godís wrath from the people, then it had to fall somewhere else. But even there, it is not a matter of Godís wrath, but it is a matter of Godís love. It is precisely by his suffering that Jeremiah became a great saint. It was in suffering that he was actually able to stand before God on behalf of the people to turn away the wrath of God from them.
The interesting thing is: God uses the very people that he was praying for to make him suffer. They dug a pit and threw him in it, they tarred him and put him in stocks, and they tossed him into jail. They did one thing after the next to poor Jeremiah. Yet, God kept sending him right back, saying "Now pray for these people. Be kind to them and call them to holiness. Call them to conversion."
We see Our Lord telling us the exact same thing: Heís going to have to go to Jerusalem, Heís going to be turned over to the chief priests and scribes, they will condemn Him to death and turn Him over to the Gentiles. They will make sport of Him, they will crucify Him, all these things. And so the pattern is going to be the same for us. If we are going to pray for somebody, for their conversion, and weíre going to try to do good for them, weíre going to suffer. That is not to suggest that we are being repaid with evil. That is what it will feel like on the inside. "If Iím doing something good, why do I have to suffer?" Suffering is evil, we think. But it is not. When we look at the crucifix, we see that suffering is an act of love if it is offered to God, if it is united to the Lord. If all we do is suffer and we do nothing with it, itís no better than an animal that is suffering. What good is a dog that is suffering? What good does that suffering do? None. But human suffering is entirely different because we can accept it and offer it to the Lord in union with Our Lordís suffering. Then it has infinite value. It becomes the very suffering of Jesus Christ.
That is the dignity that God has given to each one of us. And we shun it because we think it is evil. It was so dignified that the Son of God took it to Himself. He told us that He came not to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many. Then He told us that is what we are to do. If we want to be great in the sight of God, it should not be in an arrogant way saying, "I want to be the best. I want to be a greater saint than everyone else that ever lived." No saint has ever set out to do that. If they did, God knocked them down rather quickly to the point that they finally were humble enough to be a great saint. It was not because they wanted to be great, but because they wanted to love God. They wanted to serve His people.
So the Lord says, "If you want to be great in the eyes of God, you must serve the needs of the rest." Itís not making your greatness felt . Itís not being noticed and recognized. Rather, it is in service, it is in being humble. The greatest service that we can provide for others is to pray for them and to suffer for them. When we suffer like Jeremiah, weíre going to say, "Why does good have to be repaid by evil?" But as we suffer, we will be tempered and we will grow in holiness. Then we will understand, experientially, the value, the dignity, and the importance of suffering. We will complain no longer.
Thatís why all the saints, when they get to a certain point, begin to pray for suffering. They donít shun it anymore. They donít complain about it anymore. They pray for it. We would look at them and say, "They need a psychiatrist. Anybody who wants to suffer must be crazy." But they are not. They are the greatest of the psychologists, actually. If you will read them, you will see that their insights into human nature are keener than any psychologist has. They recognize that their suffering brings about the conversion of others. It makes them holy and unites them to Jesus Christ in His suffering. That is what God is calling us to. That is not evil, but just the opposite: it is the greatest good. It is that which will make us saints. It will make us holy. It translates into eternity where we will be great saints and have a higher place in Heaven to love and glorify God for all eternity. Isnít that what we would want - to be able to love more perfectly in this world and in the next? The only way to do that is through prayer and suffering. So it is not an evil to be shunned, but it is a gift which the Lord holds out to us. One that we should be eager to accept and to unite with His suffering, the gift He offered to us. And in that way to become one with Jesus Christ.
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.