Monday August 5, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Jeremiah 28:1-17) Gospel (St. Matthew 14:22-36)
In the first reading today from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah, we have a very important distinction that is made for us by the prophet Jeremiah. He tells us that the prophets of old used to prophesy war, woe, and pestilence against many lands and mighty kingdoms, but the prophet who prophesies peace is recognized as truly sent by the Lord only when his prediction is fulfilled. This is something very important for us to keep in mind. What God does is that He will allow His prophets to prophesy the difficult things, then if the people pray and they repent, God will remove whatever it is that He has told the people He will do. But when somebody prophesies peace, God is going to fulfill that completely if it is from God.
Now the problem for Hananiah in the first reading is that what he was prophesying was not from God. That is the point Jeremiah is making. The Lord says to Jeremiah to go and tell Hananiah that he will die within the year because what he is doing is causing rebellion in the house of the Lord. He was causing rebellion because it was God's Will that the people had to go into exile. Needless to say, they did not like being in exile and the thought that within two years the exile was going to be ended and everything stolen from the temple was going to be returned sounded like a wonderful thing. It is exactly what the people would want to hear: "There is a light at the end of the tunnel; we can see some hope." But that was not God's Will because the sins of the people were such that God was not going to allow it. They needed to be purified, and God had told them earlier that their exile was going to be rather lengthy. So here Hananiah is prophesying something exactly contrary to what God had already said.
In our day, we have lots of people running around trying to make all kinds of interesting prophecies. We need to be very cautious about it; otherwise, like Peter, we are just going to start to sink. The only way we are going to be able to walk upon the water - and they are troubled waters in our day - is if we keep our focus on the Lord and if we do not try to worry about what is going to happen and how quickly or when or how it is going to end or whatever; just leave that in the Lord's hands. All we need to do is keep our focus on Him. If we start looking for specifics, we can be pretty well guaranteed that it is not from the Lord. The Lord will make clear enough to us what is going to happen; there is no doubt about that. But we want to be able to hold onto things. We want to be able to know exactly how it is going to happen so we can prepare ourselves and we can somehow sidestep what the Lord is doing. That will not happen.
What we need to do and we have to recognize, just as happened to the people of Israel 2,500 years ago when Jeremiah was alive, is that it was not only the wicked people who went into exile but the good ones did too, because the good ones were going to be punished for the wicked ones. God allows all of that. So it is not like we can sit here and think, "Well, because we are trying to live our faith - we are praying and going to Mass everyday - if there are problems that befall the Church it's not going to bother me because I'm trying to do what's right." I think we all know better than that. But neither can we think that because we are trying to do what is right that God is at least going to spare us by letting us know exactly what to expect and how to expect it and what we should do and how long this is going to last and how it is going to end. That is not going to happen. We are all going to have to deal with the purification, and we are going to have to deal with the full brunt of the purification that is coming upon the Church.
The Church, which is the barque of Peter, is in troubled water right now. Peter sank when he took his eyes off the Lord. Those of us who are united with Peter need to learn a lesson from that. All we need to do is keep our eyes on the Lord. It does not matter how troubled the waters become, how strong the wind is, or anything else that happens. This is the Church of Jesus Christ; He has promised that He will remain with Her all days until the end of time and that the jaws of hell will not prevail against Her. We need to worry about nothing else. The Lord is in charge and He is in control; we do not have to worry about it. We will begin to sink if we start looking at all the problems. But if we keep our focus on the Lord, we will be fine.
That is the only thing that matters right now. Do not worry about all the other stuff because it is all secondary. Only one thing is necessary for us, that is, to keep our focus on the Lord. He is calling each one of us, like He did with Peter, to come to Him across the water, to get out of the boat and walk on the water - and we can do it. But we can do it only if we keep our eyes on Jesus. If we take our eyes off of Him, we are going to sink. And so we have it very clear before us. The Lord is with us; He has not abandoned us; He has not abandoned His Church. He will allow His Church to be purified just as He allowed His chosen people of old to be purified; and He did not abandon them either. So for us, the same pattern holds. We cannot be looking for an easy way out, but what we do have is the guarantee and the promises He has made that He will be with us. For each one of us, there is only one thing necessary: to keep our focus on Jesus Christ.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.