Wednesday July 25, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (2 Corinthians 4:7-15) Gospel (St. Matthew 20:20-28)
When we hear these words in the Gospel: "The cup that I am to drink, you shall drink," the Lord is telling them they are going to suffer with Him. He does not guarantee them a seat at His right hand or His left, but He does guarantee them a share in His passion. When we hear those kinds of words, we are going to be tempted to despair. We become afraid and frustrated: "It is the same theme over and over again. It's all about suffering. Why do we have to keep suffering?" Saint Paul talks about that. He talks about how they are full of doubts, but they never disbelieve; they are persecuted, but they never despair, and all these things. At the end he says, "It is all ordered to your benefit, so that the grace of God, bestowed in abundance, may bring greater glory to God because they who give thanks are many."
That is what this is all about. It is not about focusing on the suffering, but rather it is about focusing on the fruit of the suffering. While Jesus was not going to guarantee the places at His right hand and His left to His apostles (because that was for His mother and His father, I suspect), nonetheless, He did guarantee them a place in Heaven - and a very high place in Heaven. As we read in the Book of Revelation, they are seated on twelve thrones and they judge the twelve tribes of Israel. If this is the case, they do have a very high place because they shared in the suffering of Christ.
The same is true for all of us. If we are willing to share in the suffering of Christ and offer that suffering for others, then that suffering becomes redemptive and meritorious and others will be brought to Heaven because of it. There will be more people who will give greater glory to God. That is what the Lord is asking of us.
Human suffering is not suffering like an animal. That is, a wounded animal is just simply suffering. With a wounded animal we might say, "Well, we should put the animal to sleep because it is inhumane to allow the animal to suffer." Tragically, there are some that suggest the same thing about a human being these days: "Just euthanize them. Why allow them to sit here and suffer?" - Because it will bring about their conversion. - Because it will bring about the conversion of many others. But those without faith do not see any value in suffering.
Without faith, there is no difference between the suffering of an animal and the suffering of a human being. But the fact is, for a Christian person, human suffering has been transformed. Now, in Christ, suffering is meritorious. It is dignified and it has infinite value. So we cannot reject it. We have to be able to see that it was through His obedience and His suffering that we have been saved. So too, if we offer our suffering in union with His, it becomes His. Then there is cause for rejoicing in the midst of the suffering because we can see the value of it. We can see the good that God is trying to bring about.
All we need to do is look back at our own lives and see how many times we have suffered through various things and then see the fruit God has brought from it; to be able to see, even now, that if we are suffering God will bring great fruit from it. We do not have to wait until it is over, anymore, to be able to see that this is good and to be able to rejoice. We can rejoice even in the midst of it because we know it will bring about a harvest worthy of God. In that way, those who give thanks to God will be many.
That is what Saint Paul is talking about. And that is what Our Lord is offering to His apostles. It is not that they will share in His suffering because He thinks it is funny that they would all have to suffer. Not at all. But rather they will share in His suffering because He loves them so much and He wants them to love Him as He loves them.
That is exactly why He does the same with us: because He loves us abundantly and He wants us to love Him the way that He loves us. When we love Him that way, then we will be truly counted among those who give Him thanks. Then, those who give Him thanks will truly be abundant.
Note: Father Altier does not write 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.