More Tortuous than All Else is the Human Heart
Thursday February 28, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Second Week of Lent
Reading (Jeremiah 17:5-10) Gospel (St. Luke 16:19-31)
The words that we heard today from the prophet Jeremiah are words that strike us to the very core: More tortuous than all else is the human heart, beyond remedy; who can endure it? When we think of those words, we certainly can understand them, and that does not mean we need to look at anybody else and say, "Look at how awful that person is!" because all we need to do is look at ourselves. We see that one day we try to be faithful to the Lord, and the next day we are pulling everything right back into ourselves. We know how often we have walked right by people who needed help. We know how selfish we have been. We know how we have just relied on ourselves, or on our money, or on material things, or tried to rely on a job, or tried to rely on various worldly things; and we do not put our faith in God.
We say that we are going to put our faith in God, but then as soon as the first little difficulty comes, we pull it right back into ourselves. We find that we do have faith in God, but it is kind of a distant faith. That is, as long as things are under control, then we are okay with God; but as long as things are at all out of whack, as long as there is anything that is not quite the way we think it ought to be, we immediately try to take everything right back to ourselves. We want to make sure that we are set. We want to make sure that we are self-reliant. Then we can talk about God all day long because we do not really need to trust Him; we have got everything all taken care of - or so we think. That is the tortuousness of the human heart.
What we need to do is put our trust in God and never pull it back to ourselves. All we need to do, again, is look to ourselves to know how fickle we are, to know that we cannot trust ourselves. Now we know that we cannot really trust anybody else, but the best way to know that is to know that we cannot even trust ourselves. How many times have we let our own selves down? We change our minds from one minute to the next; we cannot maintain a straight course. It is difficult for us to be able to do the Will of God because we keep getting in our own way. And still we think that we can rely on ourselves, or that we can rely on our money, or that we can rely on our power, or that we can rely on somebody else.
But if you just simply look back through your lives, you can ask one simple question: What human person is there who has never let you down? Every single one that you have ever met has, somewhere along the line, let you down. That does not mean they are bad people; it just simply means they are human. And they are going to let us down just as we let them down and as we let ourselves down. But somewhere along the line everyone fails us, except God. So we need to put our trust in the Lord.
If we put our trust in ourselves, in our money, in our material things, in somebody else, or whatever it might be, we are going to be just like Dives, the rich man in the Gospel: We have got it all taken care of here and everything looks wonderful, and then we can wind up in a place of torment. Lazarus trusted in the Lord and he was taken to the bosom of Abraham; he found a place of comfort. We need to look at this very carefully because in a society which tells us to look out for ourselves, in a society which makes sure that we are taken care of, we had better make sure that we really are taken care of - not so much for this life but for the next. We need to make sure that our trust is in the right place, that it really is in God.
You can just ask yourself, if you are like many Americans: What would happen if the stock market crashed today? Where would you be? Would it be that what you have been trusting in for your retirement will all be gone? Then what? None of it remains, except God. It does not mean there is anything wrong with putting money aside for retirement, but what it does mean is there is something wrong with trusting in the money that you have put aside for retirement. The trust cannot be in ourselves; it cannot be in our bank account; it cannot be in anything else; it must be in God, and God alone. It is the only place where our hearts will find rest. It is the only place where they are going to find comfort. It is the only place where they are going to be completely stable.
We need to look beyond everything else - all the things that the world tells us to trust in, all the things that we ourselves like to find a grasp on because we think we can hang onto it. We think that it is solid, but it is always like shifting sand; there is nothing solid in any of it. The only rock is Jesus Christ. He is the only one who does not change. He is the only one who will not let us down. And He has told us that we must build our house firmly on the rock, not on the shifting sand; and He is that rock.
So as we look at our own heart and we see the tragedy of our own heart, then we understand that we cannot really put trust in anybody else's either, except the Sacred Heart of Jesus - the Rock upon which we must build our house.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.