Seeking Our Beloved
Monday July 22, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Song of Songs 3:1-4b) Gospel (St. John 20:1-2, 11-18)
In the readings today, we see the fruit of love and perseverance. In the first reading from the Song of Songs, we hear about the bride who seeks her beloved. First, she seeks him lying on her bed, but is unable to find him. So then she gets up and says, "I'm going to walk around the city and see if I can find him." She is unable to find him anywhere. She comes upon the watchmen and asks them, "Have you seen him whom my heart loves?" They did not know where he was either. Finally, then, she simply turns around and there he is.
Now one could say, "Well, if she would have just sat at home she would have been just fine; he would have been there." That is not the case. She had to go looking. She had to put her heart into seeking the one whom she loved. It was not enough just to lie there and think, "He'll take care of it; he'll come to me." That is, unfortunately, what lots of people tend to think in the prayer life: "I don't really have to work at this; God will do the whole thing. I can just sit here and He'll take care of it." It does not work that way. It is true that maybe in the majority of our lives, at some point, God Himself has intervened to turn us around and get things on track. But then He requires that we seek Him. It is not enough just to sit back and say, "Well, He'll find me. He knows where I am." The question is not whether He knows where we are; the question is do we know where He is? We need to seek Him with our whole heart and soul and strength. We need to put everything we have into it, just like the bride in the Song of Songs.
That is what we see with Saint Mary Magdalene, which is why the Church has given to us that reading for today. She is the one who was there at the foot of the Cross, persevering with the Lord. She is the one who was willing, even before the Cross, to be counted with the Lord and willing to die with Him if that is what it was going to take. When the rest of the crowd was crying out for Barabbas, there she was crying out for the Lord. Now after the point of His death, she is the first one out of bed before the sun comes up and heading for the tomb to be where Jesus is. But she could not find Him because He was not there. And she saw Him. She went and found Peter and John, and they came to the tomb. They looked in and saw the cloths laying around and they believed - and they left. But Mary Magdalene stayed at the tomb and she prayed - and her perseverance was rewarded. She sought Him whom her heart loved. Finally, she simply turned and there He was - even when she did not know Him, thinking He was the gardener. But finally, He called her name and she recognized Him.
So it will be for each one of us, the fruit of our perseverance, the fruit of our searching and seeking the Lord with our whole heart. How often, day after day after day, we go to prayer, sometimes month after month and year after year, and it is just dry. The Lord seems nowhere to be found. Then one day, suddenly, you simply turn and there He is, the One whom your heart has been seeking all this time. But that seeking was necessary because it purifies the heart and it prepares the heart for greater union with the Beloved.
And so it is not that the Lord has abandoned us, but rather, what He does is He allows our heart to long with even greater desire for union with Him. He tests us to find out how much we really want it. If He is right there with consolation everyday, that does not require any love on our part; it is very easy and it is kind of pleasant and fun. But when we have to seek Him and we have to make the determination: "What is most important in my life is union with Jesus Christ, and I will do whatever it requires to achieve that union" that is when He will reward us. Not just simply making that mental point today and saying, "Okay, I'll do whatever it takes," but carrying it out, persevering, being diligent in prayer, seeking Him, loving Him, and growing to the point where we truly can say, "He is Him whom my heart loves." When we are demonstrating that and our heart is truly prepared to be one with the One whom our heart loves then He will be there and united ourselves with Himself.
That is what Saint Mary Magdalene experienced. That is what every one of the saints has experienced throughout the years. And it is exactly what each one of us can experience if we are willing to make Him the Beloved of our hearts, persevere in prayer, and do whatever it takes to find Him.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.