Purification and the Cross
Thursday July 18, 2002 (Audio) Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Isaiah 26:7-9, 12, 16-19) Gospel (St. Matthew 11:28-30)
In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah tells us that the way of the just is smooth and the path of the just the Lord makes level. That seems to be exactly the opposite, then, of what he says a little later on: "O Lord, oppressed by Your punishment, we cried out in anguish under your chastising." One could ask, "How are those two things the same?"
Well, first of all, we have to understand that the way of the Lord is perfectly just, and the Lord, in His mercy for us, is going to purify us. The purification is going to be crushing at times, but that does not mean that the path is not smooth and level. Our Lord tells us the path that leads to Heaven is rough and narrow and few there are who are on it - that is the oppression, that oppressive kind of chastisement. Not a chastisement that is so much a matter of punishment, but rather, a chastisement that is a matter of purification because what the Lord wants for us is to be able to get to Heaven. The prophet tells us that what we have done on our own is conceived and brought forth wind. There is nothing we are going to be able to do on our own. He says that God intended salvation to be brought to the whole earth, first through the Jewish people, and now we can say the same thing about the Church. Yet he says, "The inhabitants of the world cannot bring it forth." There is no way we can do it on our own. Even though we know the truth, even though we have Jesus Christ and we are preaching Him, it is not something we can do on our own. We can do it only with the Lord; only He can do it, and only by His grace. But the only way that is going to happen is if we get ourselves out of the way - and we cannot even do that! The Lord has to do that. We look at the apostles and we see what they had to endure. Their path was not an easy one, but Isaiah did not say it was easy, he just said it was smooth and level. The smooth and level way is simply doing it God's way. But it is not going to be an easy way because when we read about Saint Paul, who was beaten and shipwrecked and stoned and all the things that happened to him, we see that that is the smooth and level way. That was the way God leveled out his life so he could bring the message of the Gospel to people.
So too, it will be for us. If we are going to do it God's way, we have to be prepared for what is going to happen. People think, "Because I believe in Jesus, nothing is going to go wrong in my life." Well, you had better guess again because it is going to be just the opposite as the Lord begins to purify us. It is one thing after the next, and as we go along we realize this is a great gift. This is not because He hates us; it is not because He is punishing us; but rather, it is because He is perfecting us; He is purifying us. It feels oppressive at times. But we realize that God's oppression (if we want to call it that) is really freedom because He is freeing us from ourselves, He is freeing us from the bondage we have with sin, He is freeing us from all the shackles we have placed ourselves in. He does that by crushing those things and ridding us of them. That is exactly what He tells us in the Gospel: "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle, meek, and humble of heart." The Lord's yoke is the Cross, and it knocked Him to the ground three times. This is not going to be an easy thing for us to carry. Yet, it is the perfect way; it is the most smooth and level way for us. Not the wide, easy way that leads to perdition, but rather, it is the straight, clear way that leads to eternity. And that is what we are after: to be able to do the Lord's Will and to be able to be with Him for eternity. There is only one way that is going to be done, and that is if we are willing to take the Cross on our shoulders and follow Him everyday, to be crushed under the Cross. But being crushed under the Cross is simply being freed from all of our slavery to sin, being freed from the bondage to our own selfishness so that we can soar, so that we can do His Will in all things and we can glorify God by the way we live. In that way, we see that these two things - the smooth and level way and being oppressed and under anguish by the chastisement of the Lord - are really one and the same thing. There is no difference with the Lord. It is the perfect way and the only way to become holy.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.