How Much Do We really Want to See His Face?
July 8, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Genesis 32:23-33) Gospel (St. Matthew 9:32-38)
In the Gospel reading, Our Lord, looking at the people, is moved with pity for them because, He says, “They are like sheep without a shepherd.” They are people who desire what is right, they want to be led in the right path, but they have no one to do it. They desire to see the Lord but they do not know how. And so rather than getting up and seeking Him with their whole heart and soul and strength, they wind up simply lying down, rolling up in a ball, and lying there doing nothing. If we look at what is going on in the lives of many, many, many Catholics today, it is exactly that. They are lying around like sheep without a shepherd. They do not know how to pray. They do not know how to find the Lord. They do not know what they are supposed to do because no one has taught them; no one has shown them the way.
Yet what we need to do is simply take up the prayer life. We need to seek the Lord’s face and we need to do whatever is going to be necessary in order to find Him. What that means is that we oftentimes are going to have to struggle not only against ourselves but against everything else. If we find ourselves, for instance, as one of those lying around like sheep without a shepherd, it is then a matter that we have to fight against our own natural inclinations to simply lie there. We fall into this humanness of saying, “Well, nobody’s here to show me so all I can do is lie here. I don’t have anyone to do it for me so I just have to wait.” I would recommend that at this point there is no time for lying around waiting. The Lord is present in our midst; we simply need to get up and seek Him.
Now what that is going to mean for us, as the saints make very clear and as we see in the first reading, is that we are going to wind up having to wrestle. Like Jacob wrestled with the angel, we have to wrestle with ourselves. But we wind up wrestling with God as well. God wants all of us. Our hearts, our souls, everything about us, God wants. And we fight with Him because we do not want to give it up, which is most often why we are lying around doing nothing like sheep without a shepherd – because we do not really will to do what is right. We want to, but we do not will it. We are unwilling to give up so we fight with God.
When we read the saints, when they talk about the spiritual life they talk about a wound. Just as Jacob received a wound as he wrestled with God, so too, all the saints will tell you the same thing. They receive a wound because there is only so much that a person can do on his or her own and then God has to do the rest. In order to strip us of our very selves, He has to wound us. It is not a wound, however, that is done out of any kind of anger or vengeance or being mean or anything like that, but rather it is a wound of love. It is a wound that the Lord inflicts upon the heart in order to open it, in order to help us understand that we are helpless by ourselves and it is only by His Will, by His doing, that we are going to be able to be purified.
But we have to will it. We have to desire it. We cannot just simply lie there and say, “I can’t do anything.” We have to seek Him. Just as Jacob sought the Lord and he fought and he wrestled, we have to do the same. We have to fight against our own selves and we have to fight against the demons and we have to fight against everything that is coming against us. In other words, the question that the Lord is going to ask us is, “How badly do you really want to see My face? How much do you really want to be united with Me?” Most of us will sit back and say, “Oh, it would be so nice!” But we are not willing to do a thing about it. The Lord wants us to show Him by our fight, by our willfulness, how much we really want to see Him, how much we really want to be united with Him. That is what is required on our part. We cannot just lie around and wait. We need to get up and we need to start seeking the Lord with our whole heart and soul and strength. We need to be willing to overcome whatever obstacles are there. That is the wrestling match; that is the fight – whatever the obstacles are – to push hard, to fight against them. Only with the Lord’s grace, of course, can that be done.
And when it comes to the point where we are unable to do anything more for ourselves, then, just as the angel did with Jacob, so the Lord will do with us: He will wound us deeply but gently in a wound that will never heal, just like Jacob’s never did. In that way, we will recognize the face of the Lord because the heart will then be open and it will never again close. Only God can do that. We cannot do it for ourselves, but we can dispose ourselves for it; and that is to be able to know Who our real Shepherd is and do whatever is required to see His face.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.