Tuesday November 27, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Daniel 2:31-45) Gospel (St. Luke 21:5-11)
In the first reading today, we hear this extraordinary interpretation of the prophet Daniel. It is extraordinary because the king did not explain to Daniel the vision that he saw; but rather, what he started out with was to say, "I had a dream, and whoever is able to tell me what it was and give me the interpretation is going to be given third position in the kingdom…" and all these sorts of things. No one was able to do that. Daniel, who at the time was in prison, is brought out and he is asked what this means. He explains to the king what it was that the king saw and what it meant.
He talked about these four kingdoms – the statue that he saw. If we go back in history and we look, there were four kingdoms indeed that basically ruled what was known as the whole world at the time. There was, at the time of Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian kingdom, which was the Assyrians. Following him, as we look through history, we see the Persians: Cyrus the Persian who sent the Israelites back to rebuild their temple, the one that Isaiah spoke of and that God had raised up to be able to re-establish his people in the Holy Land. Then after that was the kingdom of the Greeks. Then there was the kingdom of the Romans, the Roman Empire, which was sealed indeed by intermarriage and it did not last; it was a very shaky unity.
And then there was a small little rock that was hewn from a mountain without a human hand being touched to it - and that is Jesus Christ: the Rock, the Mountain, the Stone, whatever you want to understand Him as. It was in the time of the Roman Empire that He was raised up. We are told that He hit the tile and iron, and the whole thing crumbled and blew away. But this little stone grew and filled the whole world – and that is the Church; it is the faith in Jesus Christ. It will never go away and that is the beauty of it.
However, at the same time that we say that, we need to be able to look at the Gospel reading and see that Our Lord reminds the people that a day will come when not one stone in the temple will be standing upon another; it would all be destroyed. Now this temple that Herod had built was more than twice the size of the temple that Solomon had built and that the people had rebuilt at the time of Cyrus and Nehemiah and Ezra. But it took them, as we hear in the Gospels, 46 years to be able to build. Jesus told them that within one generation all of this would happen and indeed it did: In the year 70, the Romans destroyed the temple and they burned everything. Then the vandals came by and they literally took one stone off the top of the other in order to get the gold that had melted and gone down between the stones. So, literally, not one single stone was left upon another on the Holy of Holies in the area of the temple that Jesus was looking at and speaking of.
When we see that, we begin to understand what is going to happen: There will be a time, as I told you before, when the Church is going to appear to be destroyed. They are going to try to destroy everything. This mountain that we see in the first reading – the mountain that is the Church – they will make an attempt to destroy. It will appear that not one stone is left standing upon another. But they cannot destroy it; they will never be able to destroy it. They will be able to outlaw it; they will be able to persecute it; they will never destroy it. That is a promise of Jesus: The jaws of hell will never prevail against His Church. That is the promise we all need to be able to hang on to, no matter what happens.
We look at that reading from Daniel and understand that Jesus is the mountain, and when we look in the prophet Isaiah we hear about the mountain of the Lord of hosts that all the nations will come streaming toward, that instruction will go out from Jerusalem and all these different things. Whenever you read about the holy mountain [it is Jesus Christ]. Certainly the prophets may have had in mind that it was Mount Zion and it was the mountain of God’s temple and so on, but the mountain is Jesus Christ. That is where we all have to draw near. And we must remain firm on the mountain of Christ.
No matter whatever happens – in our lives, in the world, in the Church – we need to keep our focus on Christ. He is the One who rules the whole earth. We celebrated just a couple of days ago [the feast of] Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. He is the King and His kingdom will last forever, but it is a spiritual kingdom. It is not a kingdom of power; it is not a kingdom of trying to control the people. But it is a kingdom that requires, on our part, an act of the will to say: "Yes, I will to belong to this kingdom. I choose Jesus Christ as my king." And so, worldly kingdoms, earthly kingdoms may be set up and they may look real impressive but they have all passed away just as Daniel said that they would be blown away like dust and there would be no trace. Just look around the world at what has happened.
Then, when we see what is happening, we see that it is just going to be the same thing. No matter what they try to do in the world, no matter what Satan makes an attempt to do, it is all going to blow away like dust before the wind. Just remain firm on the holy mountain: Jesus Christ and His Catholic Church. We have nothing at all to fear because His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom – and it will not pass away.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.