Thursday December 19, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Third Week of Advent
Reading (Judges 13:2-7, 24-25a) Gospel (St. Luke 1:5-25)
In God’s providence, one of the things that He has done for us, as He has throughout history, is to show us what is going to happen by looking back at what has already happened. For instance, we hear in the first reading about Samson and that he is going to be consecrated to God from the womb, that he is not to drink wine or strong drink nor is his mother, and that he is given over to God from the very beginning of his life. Then we hear in the Gospel reading about Saint John the Baptist and we hear the exact same thing: that he is consecrated to God from the womb, that neither he or she is to drink wine or strong drink, that he belongs entirely to the Lord. About Samson, we hear that he is going to begin the work of freeing the Israelites from the Philistines. And Saint John the Baptist, we know, is the one who comes in the power of Elijah (as the angel tells his father), and he is the one who is going to turn the hearts of the children back to their fathers and prepare for God a people fit for Him. He is the one who is going to begin the work of the Redemption, to begin the work of freeing the people from their sins, from the ultimate slavery. Not to the Philistines this time, as to someone who is external, but rather to what is really holding the people in bondage, that is, their own sinfulness.
In looking at this pattern, then, we are very often able to see by looking back in the Old Testament what God is going to do and how He is going to work. So we see that same pattern; as He moves forward, it will be the exact same thing. But we have only one Savior; these others are prefigurations. These others are the ones who are to prepare the way and begin the work, but ultimately the work is going to be accomplished only in the Lord. We rejoice, certainly, in these great saints that the Lord has raised up, and indeed, in Saint John the Baptist – who Our Lord Himself tells us is the greatest man born of woman; yet, even with that, he is merely the forerunner. And so the greatest saint – the one who is the point of transition from the Old Testament to the New Testament, the last of the Old Testament prophets and the first of the New Testament prophets, the one who stands at that middle point in history – he is the one who is not the Messiah but is only the forerunner. So no matter who else comes on to the scene, we know always that, no matter how holy they may be, they are in the service of the One to whom they are consecrated, as was John the Baptist, as was Samson (not consecrated to Jesus per se but consecrated to God).
For us, we too have been called from the womb. We have been chosen by God, as we hear in Psalm 139: Even before He knit us together in our mother’s womb, He knew us and He called us by name. Not in the same way that He did for John the Baptist – removing Original Sin from him even while he was in the womb – but for us, nonetheless, He called us from the womb and He has given us a name. He has called us to Himself to be holy, to be completely consecrated to Himself, and to begin the work of freeing people from their sins. It is only the Lord who can ultimately free them but we can have a part in that by being like John the Baptist, being the herald of the Lord, proclaiming to the people that their sins can be forgiven, showing them the example of holiness, and living our lives entirely for the Lord. That is the pattern we see.
There will indeed, over history, be particular individuals who will be raised up and be in the spirit of Elijah, who will be in the spirit of John the Baptist; but each and every one of us, at the same time, shares in that same call to be consecrated to God, to be holy, and to be part of the work of freeing the people from their bondage to sin and bringing them to Jesus Christ.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.