Thursday August 8, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Jeremiah 31:31-34) Gospel (St. Matthew 16:13-23)
In the first reading today, we heard one of the most important readings in all of the Old Testament from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah - Jeremiah 31:31, a very easy verse to remember. It says simply: "The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah," and then goes on to tell what that covenant is going to be like: He says, "I will place My law within them, and write it upon their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be My people." That is the covenant which is ours in Jesus Christ. It was foretold by the prophets and it is fulfilled in the Lord that we are sharers in that new covenant, that we are the people of God, and He has written His law in our hearts and on our minds.
So when we look around and we see all the things that are happening in the world, all the sin and all the unfortunate things that occur and are going on even within our own Church, we recognize that it is simply a rejection of the covenant. Everything is already there; the law of God is in our hearts and on our minds. Not a single one of these people can claim that they did not know any better, that they did not realize they should not have been doing this thing or that thing, whatever it may be. They do know; they know fully well that what they are doing is wrong, just as we have known what we do is wrong every time that we do it, because the law of God is already there. We are His children.
But we also have the promise that we see in the Gospel reading today, that is, that Jesus has founded His Church on the rock and the jaws of hell will not prevail against it. It does not matter how bad things get; we have that guarantee from Jesus Himself. Just as we can look in the Old Testament times and see that God allowed His people to be taken into exile, He allowed His temple to be destroyed, He allowed all of these awful things to happen, and yet they were still His people and He never allowed His people to be destroyed. Numerous times there were plots that were set up to destroy them, but God foiled it each time. So too with His Church, He is not going to allow the Church to be destroyed. He may allow the physical buildings to be destroyed. He may allow the Church to be humbled profoundly - which would be a very good thing if that happens. But He is not going to allow the Church to be destroyed. The Church is going to continue to live in the hearts of those who are faithful and those who believe, so all of us will need to be purified because none of us can suggest that we have not been tainted, at least to some degree, by all the things that have happened. Even if we have not committed the sins, all of us have been affected by it. Nonetheless, we have all the promises of Our Lord right there for us.
Now we need to be very careful. Look at what Peter did. Right after being told that what he had received was a revelation from God that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, and he was told that the Church is going to be built upon himself, then he turns right around and after Jesus says that the Son of Man must suffer at the hands of the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders, and must be put to death, Peter rebukes Him and says, "This shall not happen to you." And Jesus says, "Get behind Me, Satan! You are not judging as God judges, but as man does." So too, if any of us want to look around and say, "Oh, God's not going to let anything bad happen to His Church because it's His Church. Therefore, because He's here, nothing bad is going to happen - because it can't." Jesus is going to look at us and say, "Get behind Me, Satan!"
It is precisely that attitude that has brought all the evil into the Church, this arrogance that nothing bad can happen. Therefore, we let the guard down and it has all come right in because everybody thought that it could not happen and so we did not keep the guard up. The shepherds were not watching; they were sleeping on the job because they assumed that the wolf would not be able to enter into the flock - and it has. Satan has entered into the fold and he is wreaking havoc. Now it is time that Satan be kicked out, but in order for that to happen there is going to have to be a purification of all of those that have been affected by him. Now we would like to be able to look at Jesus and say, "This can't happen. This is Your Mystical Body. It can't happen to You!" He is going to look right at us and say, "You don't think the Church can be crucified? You don't think the Church is going to be killed and raised up on the third day? Get behind Me, Satan! You are not judging by God's standards, but by man's."
We need to look at Jesus. We need to look at what happened to Him physically 2,000 years ago in order to make this new covenant for each of us to enter into. And if we are going to be able to live that covenant, it is going to have to be done, once again, in that the Church - the Mystical Body of Christ founded upon the rock of Peter and having all those promises of Christ - is going to be crucified and will rise up again on the third day. It is the historical pattern that is there, and there is no way around it. We simply need to accept it, and we need to quit trying to argue with the Lord and tell Him that this cannot happen. But rather, what we must do is embrace the Cross and go to the Cross with Jesus; otherwise, we will have no part of Him. We will lose the share in the covenant that we have because we do not believe in it, or at least what we believe about it is by our own standards and not by His: that we think we can draw up the standards to the covenant, that we can tell Jesus how the covenant is supposed to be lived and what it is supposed to mean rather than allowing Him to tell us. It is already written in our hearts and in our minds, so we need to get Satan out of there so that we can hear the Word of God. It is not something that we can make the decision as to how it is going to be, but He needs to do that. And so, if we are trying to tell the Lord how to run His covenant and how to run His Church, then we realize that we are not living the covenant, that we are being like Peter after the promises were made and we are trying to tell Jesus that this cannot happen to Him.
Instead, we need to listen to what the Lord says: that the Son of Man must be crucified, that He will be handed over, that He will be put to death, that He will rise up on the third day. That is going to happen to the Mystical Christ as well, and it must happen. It is the greatest of all blessings because it is the fulfillment and the renewal of the covenant which is written in the hearts and on the minds of each one of us who has been baptized into Jesus Christ. We have the incredible, unspeakable privilege of being able to be crucified with Him. The choice is ours. We can go to the Cross with Him and we can embrace that Cross with Him and we can die with Him and rise with Him on the third day. Or, we can try to rebuke Him and tell Him that this cannot happen, and we cut ourselves off from the Cross; and in doing so, we cut ourselves off from Jesus, we cut ourselves off from the covenant, and we cut ourselves off from the life which He has offered to us. That is the choice which is given to us. We know what we need to do; it is already there in our hearts and on our minds. We need to quit fighting with the Lord and embrace His Will - and go with Him to the Cross.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.