Wednesday August 14, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Ezekiel 9:1-7; 10:18-22) Gospel (St. Matthew 18:15-20)
The first reading from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel is a reading that the fathers of the Church would often look at and make quite an issue about because we see a couple of things. First of all, we see these angels that are going to strike the city of Jerusalem, but in the midst is one who is dressed in white linen (in other words, a priest) and he has a writer's case at his waist. It is the Lord. Now what happens with this is that the Lord speaks and says to the man who is dressed in the white linen that he is to mark all of the people who are faithful to God with a tau, which is the Hebrew letter that looks like a "T" or a cross. Each of these persons is to be marked on their forehead with a cross, just basically the same thing we read in the Book of Revelation that each one who is going to be faithful to the Lord is to be marked upon the forehead. All those who are unfaithful to the Lord are also going to be marked, but they are going to be marked for destruction. We see also the same thing that we talked about the other day; that is, it begins with the temple of the Lord.
So it is no different. God has already set out exactly how things are supposed to happen. Before the destruction begins, He marks those who are going to be faithful, His chosen souls; not only the ones whom He Himself has chosen, but those who have chosen Him. And in choosing Him, they are going to be marked with the Cross. Now, to be marked with the Cross is, on one level, a great privilege. It means that those who are so marked are going to survive whatever is coming. It means they are chosen by the Lord and they are going to be faithful to the Lord. At the same time, it means they have to watch all the destruction because the Lord unleashes all His destroying angels and they are to destroy all of the people who are not marked with the Cross: men, women, children, priests. Everybody who is not marked with the Cross is to be destroyed, and those who are marked with the Cross have to watch as all of this happens.
Beyond that, the city is then to be destroyed; the temple is to be defiled; and that is by the order of the Lord. We have to remember that one of the things the prophets would talk about is that the people of Israel had a problem of saying, "The Lord is with us, so nothing can happen to us." Remember that they wanted to put Jeremiah in the stocks because He was prophesying against the temple and they said, "How can you prophesy that the temple of the Lord is going to be destroyed?" They wanted to kill him. Well, here we see Ezekiel telling us that the purification is going to begin at the door of the temple and that the glory of the Lord left the threshold of the temple, the temple which was dedicated to Him. The glory of the Lord left and they piled the dead bodies out in the courtyard of the temple. So the purification began in the temple and then the temple was defiled as the destruction continued. Once again, those people who were marked with the tau all had to sit and watch as not only the people were destroyed, not only was the city destroyed, but the temple of God was defiled in the midst of it all. It would be a situation one would certainly understand where the people would despair, or at least would be tempted to despair. The one thing you would think they could hold onto at least would be that they could go to the temple and they could hold onto the Lord. But the glory of the Lord had left the temple already, and they did not even have that to hold onto any longer.
And so, the point is all clearly made for us as we move along. The Lord will mark out those who are going to be faithful to Him. He has already marked all of us in Baptism. We do not know if there is going to be another mark, nonetheless, those who are marked with the sign of the Cross are not going to have an easy way, which makes perfect sense: They are marked with the Cross. Why would they think it is going to be easy when the very sign that shows who they are is the Cross? They are united with Jesus in His Cross.
And when the purification begins - as we see it starting - it will begin in the house of the Lord, at the threshold of the house of the Lord. It makes perfect sense that it is going to begin at the altar with the priests and the bishops because it will go out from there. And if the house of the Lord is defiled and the glory of the Lord leaves and He allows that the buildings are going to be defiled and destroyed, so be it. What we need to do is simply be faithful to the Lord. It does not matter externally what happens; leave that to the Lord and continue to trust. If the Lord has put His mark upon you, He is with you and He is not going to abandon you, even though it may appear that He has. But He is not, and He will not. All we need to do is trust Him and be faithful to Him and be faithful to that mark of the Cross which is placed upon the foreheads of those who will be faithful to the Lord. That is what He is asking of each.
Now, He will not force this upon anybody. It has to be a free choice on our part. It is a wonderful gift to be chosen by the Lord, but the Lord will not force His choice upon us; it is our choice to say "yes" or "no" to the Lord. He has already made His choice. He has brought each one of us into His Son through Baptism. He has given to each one of us astounding graces to be able to be faithful to Him to this point. But each one of us has a choice to make: whether we want to be among those who are marked out for life, whether we want to be marked with the sign of the Cross, whether we want to be faithful to the Lord and survive the destruction. That is a choice we have to make. The Lord has already made His choice for each one of us, and He knows which of us is going to be faithful and which will not. But we have to make the choice. Then our faithful High Priest, the One clothed in white linen, Jesus Christ, will put the mark of His Cross on the foreheads of all those who are going to be faithful to Him. And then, He will unleash His destroying angels to destroy the holy city, beginning at the threshold of the temple of the Lord. He will allow His temple to be defiled and He will fill it with the dead bodies, and He will simply ask for those who live that they will take up their cross, that they will follow Him to Calvary, that they will be united with Him in this crucifixion of His Church, and that they will simply remain faithful to the end.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.