Tuesday February 4, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Fourth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Hebrews 12:1-4) Gospel (St. Mark 5:21-43)
In the first reading today, Saint Paul reminds us that we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses. If we think from the time that he was writing this, talking about the cloud of witnesses of the peoples of the Old Testament who had been faithful to the Lord (and, of course, by the time he is writing this, there were already a handful of Christian persons who had died), for us now, two thousand years later, think of the millions of witnesses that have been the great saints by the thousands who have gone before us, who have shown us the way, who have walked the path. In fact, he goes so far as not only to tell us to persevere in running the race but to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, Who is the leader and the perfecter of our faith.
And so it is He who can make all of this perfect, Who can help us along the way. It is not something which is beyond us. It is not something which is easy for us either – even to the point that Saint Paul reminds us that in our struggle against sin we have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood. It is pretty clear that this is not an easy task that we are about. But he also reminds us about the example of the Lord Himself and he tells us, “For the joy that lay before Him, Jesus accepted the Cross, heedless of its shame.”
So, for us, we need to keep our focus on where we are going. The Lord could have forgotten about the reason He was going to the Cross and simply looked at the Cross. If He had simply looked at the Cross on a human level, one could say that He might have pulled back – obviously, He would not have, considering that He is God, but that is what we would tend to do. We would take our focus sometimes off of the purpose and we would simply look at what is right in front of us. In other words, we would take our eyes off the end or the goal and focus on the means, and we would say, “I don’t think I want to do that.” In other words, we would take our focus off of Heaven and we would put it simply on the Cross. I think we do this rather often, so it is not something unknown to us. We forget that we want to grow in virtue, we forget that we want to be holy, and we simply look at what is right in front of us and the difficulty and the pain that might be involved and we say, “No, I don’t want to do it.”
But Jesus looked at the joy that lay before Him, the joy of knowing that we would be able to be with Him. In essence, what He did for us is exactly what He did for this little girl in the Gospel reading. He took us by the hand when we were dead in sin and He raised us up. And He did that by going to the Cross and rising from the dead for us. He had His focus on the joy, the joy that we would be able to be united with Him, to the point that He would even say that now our joy can be His joy and His can be complete. And so for the joy that lay before Him, the joy of knowing that there would be millions of souls who would be redeemed and would be able to be united with Him for all eternity, the joy of knowing that He was doing the Will of God and was being obedient in all things, for that joy He accepted the Cross.
For us, to have the joy of knowing that we will be united with Jesus Christ for all eternity, the joy of knowing that we have overcome sin in our lives and are living lives of virtue, the joy of knowing that we are doing the Will of God and being obedient as Jesus was, that should be enough for us to be able to accept the Cross that is placed before us, to do exactly what Our Lord has told us we need to do and take up our cross daily and follow Him. That is what we are being asked to do. But it is not to focus merely on the Cross that is being laid upon our shoulders, but rather to focus on the joy that lay before us so that we will accept the Cross, heedless of its pain and heedless of its shame, and we will accept that and we will go forward looking beyond it to what lies on the other side, looking at this cloud of witnesses which surrounds us, the cloud of witnesses who have accepted the Cross in their life and have grown in holiness and have had their faith perfected because they are united to the Lord.
That is what is being offered to us. We need to have the courage of the woman in the Gospel who came up to the Lord and merely reached out to touch His garment. We need to have that kind of faith to come to Jesus and reach out and touch Him and know that, if we are willing to do that, all of our fear can be healed, all of our weakness can be removed, and that we can be united with Him in His sacrifice, that we can be united with Him in His Cross, in His death, and in His Resurrection, and – praise God! – the joy that lay before us, the ultimate joy: that we can be united with Him in eternity, in the life that He offers us, and in the glory of God the Father. That is what is being offered to us. But what lies between us and that joy is the Cross. Are we, like Jesus, willing to accept it, heedless of its shame, and willing to accept that Cross and resist sin even if it requires the shedding of our blood?
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.