Tuesday November 13, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Wisdom 2:23-3:9) Gospel (St. Luke 17:7-10)
When we hear these words in the Gospel reading, they do not initially sound like any cause for rejoicing. That is, we are only servants - in fact, useless servants - and we have done no more than we were commanded to do. For most of us, [when we] think about the idea that we may have been out working in the Lord's vineyard for the entire day and then, when we come back and we are tired, He is going to ask us to do something more, we normally feel like we ought to be rewarded at the end. After all, we spent the entire day in His service, now shouldn't He be taking care of us? Well, that is not the way it works. We are to be about the Master's work.
What we have to be able to do is to understand, then, in that context, why other things happen. For instance, we hear about the souls of the just and the fact that they are in the hand of God. We like that part. But then we hear how they were tested: "Like gold in the furnace, He tried them. He proved them and found them worthy of Himself." And [this happened] only through suffering. That is part of what God is asking of us. That is part of the work that we have to do. If everything is real easy and it is kind of fun to do the Lord's work, we have not proven anything. That can be something that is self-satisfying and indeed very selfish. It is when things are difficult, when we have to practice virtue even in the midst of the pain and the suffering, when we still have to keep the smile on our face and the cheerfulness in our voice and still treat people with charity and respect and dignity that we are really doing God's work.
And so, as we struggle to try to do His Will, He allows difficult things to happen. Of course, we often think that if we are going to be doing His work it should be made easy: God should just fling the doors wide open and it is going to be a piece of cake to do whatever it is that He wants. We need to think twice about that. He tells the prophets, for instance, that they are to go out and preach but the people will be against them. Just read Jeremiah and what God asked of him. He said, "I am going to make you like a wall of brass against the people because they are going to oppose you. But go out and preach anyway. They are going to hate you for it, but you still have to do it." And He tells Ezekiel: "If I tell you to correct somebody, you have an obligation to do it. If you do not do it and the person dies, I am going to hold you responsible." It is not going to be made easy. It is not always going to be [the case] that the doors will fling wide open.
The only way that the doors will open is if we have suffered for it. We hear the same thing in the psalm. It talks about how the Lord has eyes for the just, hears their cries, and confronts the evildoers. We all like that. But then he says, "When the just cry out, the Lord hears them, and from all their distress He saves them." There has to be some distress before that can happen. Then he says that He "is close to the brokenhearted; and those who are crushed in spirit He saves." Not that as long as you are just, God is going to open the doors wide open and make everything easy for you.
But the question is - How do you become just? How do you demonstrate that justice? Only through the suffering. That, again, is what we are going to hear in the first reading. It says, "As gold in the furnace, He proved them. As sacrificial offerings He took them to Himself. In the time of their visitation they shall shine, and shall dart about as sparks through stubble." At the time of their visitation, that is when the doors will be flung wide open. When the Lord calls you home and you have proven your righteousness, when you have managed to maintain through all the struggles and difficulties and sufferings of this life, when you have maintained the faith and you have done what is right in the face of the hardships, then you will be considered one of the righteous ones. Then you will shine on the day of visitation. Then the door will be open wide for you.
In the meantime, this is called "the vale of tears" for a reason. We have to expect that that is going to be there. That means that we do God's work 24 hours a day. It is not an 8 hour a day job where we can come home and sit back with our feet up and think: "I've done enough now." It does not work that way. I was talking one time to a non-Catholic who was a little bit agitated by the end of a particular Sunday. She said to me, "The pastor looked at me, and instead of saying "Go in peace to love and serve the Lord" he just said one of the most freeing things "Go in pieces and serve the Lord no more'." I thought: "That is not anything that would cause one to be joyful." Well, she thought this was a great pastoral thing because it let her off the hook. I said, "No, we have to be about the Lord's work always. Not just part time, but always." That is what we have to be about: proving the righteousness when it difficult.
God will give us the strength and He will give us the rest when we need it. Not always when we want it, but when we need it. So we need to trust Him and we need to continue to move forward and recognize that the reality is that we are useless servants. Most of us do not even do what we were commanded to do. So we cannot even stand before the Lord and say, "We have only done what we were commanded to do," because we have not even done that, most of us. That is what we need to keep working at: being true and real servants of the Lord who will indeed do, in the midst of suffering and difficulty, what we were commanded to do.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.