Wednesday September 5, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twenty-Second Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Colossians 1:1-8) Gospel (St. Luke 4:38-44)
This homily was given at a Poor Clare Monastery
in Central Minnesota
In the Gospel reading we hear that the people of Capernaum wanted Jesus to stay with them. We can certainly understand that sentiment: We do not want Our Lord to leave. If we heard the message and saw the miracles that He worked, we would want Him to remain. The thing is that it does not require a whole lot of faith if we can see, but rather what requires faith is when we have to believe when we cannot see.
Saint Paul, in addressing the Colossians, tells them: "We have heard of your faith in Jesus Christ and the witness that you bear and the hope that is held in store for you." We need to ask ourselves, "Would people be able to say the same thing of us?" We know the power of the Lord. We have heard of it in the Gospel, we have seen it happen in our own lives. Maybe we have not seen that demons have gone forth from ourselves, or maybe we have not seen extraordinary healings, but we have seen the power of the Lord. All of us have stories we can tell of the way the Lord has worked within our lives.
And yet, what happens so often is that when the Lord does not do extraordinary things in our lives for a while, our hearts start to slip; we begin to go astray. It is not that we have stopped believing, because we know in our minds and in our hearts that He is the Lord, that He is the Messiah, that He is the only hope. Yet, in the way that we live our lives and in our daily actions - in our thoughts, in our words - it begins to slip away until the Lord does something extraordinary again. Then, we are right back in front of Him in the Blessed Sacrament on our knees, and we are fervent for another week or two. And then it starts to slip, once again. We realize, then, how weak our faith really is. When it requires extraordinary things for us to believe, that is not a very strong faith.
Faith is tested when there are not extraordinary things that are happening. In fact, faith is tested most completely when we cannot even feel the Lord present, when it seems that He is not there. We know that He is, but when we do not have that feeling is when it requires great faith.
It requires little faith when we are filled with wonderful consolations and great feelings of things the Lord is doing in us. When we have a wonderful time of prayer and we sort of float right out of the chapel, that does not require any faith. It is when things did not go well in prayer (at least, from our perspective), when there were loads of distractions, or when it was totally dry and dark: we could not find the Lord at all - that is when it requires faith to be able to say, "I continue to believe," and to continue to live it in its fullness, even when we cannot feel Him, even when we do not recognize Him present. It requires faith to know that He is still there and to say, "He is God and I will love Him with my whole heart and soul, even if it does not feel like He is loving me in the same manner."
We know that God is love and that is all He does. God never loves us less; He always loves us completely and perfectly. It is our own humanness and our sense nature that makes us think that maybe He is not loving us very much because we simply do not feel it.
But it is not about feelings. It is not about the senses. It is about faith and hope and love. That is what we need to focus ourselves on. And that does not require any kind of consolation. The Lord knows our weakness well, and He knows the way that human beings operate and that until faith, hope, and charity are truly in place we are going to waver and waffle. So He provides the consolations; He provides the extraordinary things to bolster our faith.
But what we really need, if our faith is going to be strong, is to not have those things happen and to continue to remain fervent. Then, like the people of Colossae, Saint Paul would be able to say to us: "We have heard of your faith in Jesus Christ and the hope that is held out for you in the Gospel and the love that you have for one another and that faith is celebrated by all the people." That is what we want Our Lord to be able to say of us: that He has heard and seen our faith; that we have lived it completely; that no matter how much consolation He gives us or how difficult it may be, our hearts have not wavered from Him.
That is what we must focus on. That has to be what our lives are about and that is what we need to pray for. Not for extraordinary things to happen; not for the Lord to prove that He is in our midst; but rather, for us to have unwavering faith, hope, and charity - knowing that the Lord is there and never doubting for a single instant.
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.