Thursday December 13, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Second Week in Advent
Reading (Isaiah 41:13-20) Gospel (St. Matthew 11:11-15)
In the Gospel reading Our Lord tells us very solemnly that we are to heed carefully what it is that we hear. And what He tells us is that John the Baptist is Elijah. John the Baptist came in the power and the spirit of Elijah. We recall that Elijah was taken up to Heaven in a whirlwind. But right before that, the prophet Elisha, his successor, had asked for a favor. Elijah said, "Ask for whatever it is that you wish," and Elisha asked Elijah for a double portion of his spirit. And even though it was a difficult thing, Elijah said, "If you see me go up into Heaven, then it will be granted to you. And if not, then it will not." Of course, Elisha saw Elijah being taken up into Heaven in the fiery chariot. Elijah dropped his mantle and Elisha picked it up, and the spirit of Elijah remained with Elisha.
That same spirit of Elijah, then, filled Saint John the Baptist, who was to be the forerunner of Christ prophesied by the prophet Malachi, [who said] that before the day of the Lord, [Elijah] would come to turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers and so on. So Jesus is telling us a couple of things here. First of all, at that time they could understand that Elijah had indeed already come in the person of John the Baptist. And since they knew that Elijah would immediately precede the coming of the Messiah, they could understand what Jesus was telling them: "I am the Messiah", in essence, is what He was saying. And the evidence of that is that John the Baptist has already come.
But it is also the case that in the future a similar thing is going to happen. Before the day of the Lord there will be somebody preparing the way, somebody else calling out in the desert to prepare a way for the Lord and to make straight His paths. He will send Elijah, the prophet - maybe not in the person of John the Baptist per se, but someone in that same spirit because the same spirit of Elijah will remain and will continue to prophesy for the coming of the Lord.
The Lord tells us also that, from the time of John the Baptist until now, the violent go after the kingdom of God and they take it by violence. When we look around, we can see what has happened to the kingdom of God. There are those who want to live their faith and they are being persecuted for it. There are those who hate the Lord and they will try to destroy the Church. There are those who claim to believe in Christ, but if anyone wants to grow in holiness they will ridicule the person and badger them to the point that they finally stop trying to grow in holiness. The kingdom of God has indeed been taken over in that kind of way.
It tells us, then, what kind of spirit we need if we are going to live in that kingdom of God: It has to be strong; it has to be one that will stand against the violence that will come against us if we are going to try to live a true Catholic life. It is not a politically correct thing to do. It is not something which is socially acceptable. It is something which is completely virtuous and holy, but our society rejects that. And so, even though it makes no sense that they should reject it, they have chosen evil over good and because of that they will reject the good.
But at the same time that happens, the Lord reminds us of our own lowliness in rather graphic terms when He says in the first reading: "Fear not, O worm Jacob, O maggot Israel," letting us know that really we are very small. And yet, He says, "I will help you; fear not." There are so many people who say, "I canít take up the spiritual life. I canít live a holy life because of all the things, because of all the trouble, because of all the problems that people will cause me." The Lord is saying, "I will help you; do not fear." You have absolutely nothing to fear from anyone or anything as long as you are with the Lord. He will provide the grace. It does not mean He is going to make it easy Ė we all know better than that. But it does mean that He will give all the grace necessary and He will protect you. That is the part we need to hang on to. That is the promise the Lord is making.
He is going to make springs burst forth in the desert: the desert of our heart, the desert of our soul. The springs of His grace will overflow. What Our Lord promised is that the water will come forth, the living waters, fountains of living waters. Saint John tells us that is the Holy Spirit. So Godís grace filling our hearts is that water in the desert. The Lord dwells there, and if He is there we have nothing at all to fear. No matter what comes against us or what happens around us, there is nothing at all to fear as long as we are keeping our focus on Christ.
When we look on the natural level, Jesus tells us that the Baptist is the greatest man born of woman, on the natural level. And yet, He tells us that the least born into the kingdom of God is greater than John the Baptist because if you are born into the kingdom of God you have grace - you have a holiness that is supernatural, not natural. Therefore, everything is there for you to be a great saint, for you to be holy, for you to be able to live the Catholic life that you professed to God and vowed to Him that you would do on the day of your Baptism. So everything is there, including the promises of God that we have nothing to fear and that He will help us.
We simply need to keep our focus on the Lord and continue to move forward and pray that the day of the Lord will be hastened. Listen for that voice of Elijah, of John the Baptist out in the desert, calling us to make straight the way within our heart so that the way of the Lord is going to be prepared in the desert of our souls.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.