Pray for the Conversion of Souls
Thursday March 14, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Fourth Week of Lent
Reading (Exodus 32:7-14) Gospel (St. John 5:31-47)
We hear the words from this first reading out of the Book of Exodus. It gives us great hope and helps us to understand, when we wonder why God has tolerated so much in this world, why He continues to allow these awful things to happen. It is out of love for His people. We see that there is a test that is given to Moses. God says, "Go down to your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt, as they have become depraved." The Lord tells Moses that He is going to exterminate the people from the face of the earth. But Moses, who could have looked only to himself and thought arrogantly, "God is going to make of me a great nation; He will get rid of all these people and it will be my offspring," turns right around and says, "No, these are Your people and You brought them up out of the land of Egypt." That is precisely the reason why God is so merciful: because we are His people, we are His children.
All you have to do is think of your own children: all of the things they get themselves into and yet you continue to love them because they are your children. It does not mean that you think what they are doing is good. It does not mean that you rejoice in the things they are doing. But you still continue to love them and the door is always open to take them back. You do not want them to go astray. If they do go astray, you do not have much choice but to allow it. You might try to talk them out of it, of course; but eventually you have to let them go their own way. You continue to pray for them. You continue to hope that they are going to come back. And you continue to love them as a parent would.
That is what God does. As I oftentimes will point out to parents, you cooperated with God in the creation of these children - God created them. If you, who cooperated, love them that much, think how much more God loves them. And so when we see all the awful things going on in the world and wonder how God can tolerate it, it is because He loves us and He wants us to come home. He wants us to be converted and to come back to Him.
Now we need to be very careful that we do not just simply look at everybody else and say, "Look at the horrible things that they're doing out there!" because the Pharisees would have done exactly the same. "We have Moses! We have the Scriptures! We have the faith!" they would have said. Jesus looked right at them and said, "You do not have the love of God in your hearts. Look at the Scriptures, in which you think you have eternal life." Don't we hear that from lots of Christian people today? And yet Jesus says to them that they do not believe in the Scriptures either because the Scriptures point to Him and Moses pointed to Him as well. But they did not want to believe in the Word of God; they wanted to believe in what they thought the Word of God said because it was more convenient than what the Word of God really said.
So we need to be careful of the exact same thing. It would be very easy for us to become self-righteous. It would be very easy for us to interpret things the way that we want to interpret them. We need to ask always in prayer, What is God's Will? What did God mean by what He said? and be careful that we do not twist it to our own ends, but that we accept the Word of God as it is for what it is; that we recognize in our own selves the love of God; and that we do not get stuck in our heads trying to manipulate the Word of God for our own purpose, but that we get down into our hearts and love God who loves us. That is what He is requiring of us: not only that we know the truth, but that we love the truth because He is the truth.
The truth, again, is not a set of propositions; it is a Person - it is the Person of Jesus Christ, it is the Three Persons of the Trinity. They love, and we are made in Their image and likeness and we are to love. We are made for truth; we are made for love. That is what the Lord is requiring of us. So we need to be very careful not just to take one half and think that we have got it all - the all is love. We must learn from God how to love. God, who is so patient and so tolerant - and as Saint Peter tells us, "His patience is directed toward salvation" - wants all of us to be with Him, all of His children. And so He very patiently waits.
The day is coming, indeed, when the patience will run out. But in the meantime, we must continue to pray that those who are away from the Lord will come back. And, for those of us who believe in the Lord, that we will continue to grow deeper and that we will not only believe the truth - but that we will also love the truth.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.