Tuesday February 25, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Seventh Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Sirach 2:1-11) Gospel (St. Mark 9:30-37)
In the readings today, we hear some things that most of us probably do not really like to hear, that is, “When you come to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for trials.” It goes on from there and talks about what happens in times of adversity and that whatever befalls you be steadfast and even in crushing misfortune be patient and how people are tested in the crucible like silver and gold, all these things that are spoken very clearly. It is not the way that we normally think of things when it comes time to serve the Lord. Again, we see how in our society we have been affected very much by the Protestant foundation of America where we are told that God does not want anybody to suffer and that if you suffer it is because you have done something wrong: “It must be your fault; you have sinned. You did something that made God angry.” That is exactly the opposite of what Scripture says. There are times indeed when it is our own sins that bring about some of our suffering, but God purifies those who want to serve Him and that purification is a very, very painful thing. So when we see, for instance, the disciples arguing about who is the greatest, the Lord tells them that the one who is the least is the greatest, the one who becomes the servant of the others is the greatest. Not the way the world looks at things does the Lord see things, and we need to look at things as the Lord sees them.
Now, as Sirach goes on, he asks questions like, “Who has ever hoped in the Lord and been disappointed? Who has ever persevered and been forsaken?” and I suspect that in all of our lives we can look back and say, “I have.” There are times when things are not going very well in our lives and we are being crushed beyond our strength and we can say, “I’ve been disappointed. I asked the Lord to help me and He didn’t.” Yet if we really stopped to look at what the Lord did, He maybe did not take away our suffering, but the reason for that is because it was there for a different reason; it was there as a purification and certainly, then, He is not going to take it away. That would be like a student in school praying that the Lord would just simply let him graduate today because he just cannot take this any longer. Well, the kid has to make it all the way through school before he is going to graduate. And the same is true of us. If God is going to bring us through the crucible of suffering, He is not going to take it away simply because we do not like it. And sometimes we feel, then, like He is not answering our prayers, that He has abandoned us, that He does not like us, whatever thoughts come into our head about what we think God is doing.
But all we need to do in the midst of these things is look at the Cross. First of all, Jesus did nothing that was sinful; He did not bring any of this upon Himself. He tells us in the Gospel that the Son of Man will have to be handed over and be put to death. So, once again, it looks like He has been forsaken. It looks like He ought to be disappointed; certainly, the disciples were – the only person who wasn’t was Our Lady. But the disciples did not understand and they were disappointed and their faith was shaken by what they saw. Then comes the Resurrection, and only then do we understand that in fact God did not forsake the Lord and the disciples were not disappointed any longer. But that took a while for that to happen, just like in our lives. When we say, “Oh yes, I’ve been disappointed because the Lord didn’t answer my prayer,” and we persevere for a little while longer then all of a sudden we find that we were not abandoned or forsaken, that the Lord in fact was there, and that He was allowing this to bring about a greater good. Our momentary disappointment actually becomes a very long-term joy.
And so what we need to do is exactly what we are told in Scripture: to prepare ourselves for the suffering. The nice thing is, as Christian people, we have hope in suffering. We can unite our suffering to that of Christ and it actually becomes His suffering. There is a purpose for it. We can offer it for other people and share in the work of salvation. And so we see then that suffering has great dignity, exactly the opposite of what our society tells us. We need to learn to look at things with the eyes of faith, but in the midst of great suffering that is almost impossible until one achieves a rather high level of holiness. It is easy when you are not suffering to see the dignity of it and to tell somebody else the goodness of it. When you are going through it, it is hard to see; everything is dark, crushing, and very painful. Things do not work the way they normally do in the mind and it is easy to forget. So we need to keep reminding ourselves and we need to keep the Cross of Our Lord before us and to have that constant reminder of the value of suffering and why it is critically important, not only for ourselves to be purified and to be perfected and for growth in holiness, but for the good of others, for the salvation of souls, and the redemption of the world.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.