The Power of the Priesthood and Sacrifice
Friday October 10, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Joel 1:13-15; 2:1-2) Gospel (St. Luke 11:15-26)
Our Lord, in the Gospel this morning, speaks about the unclean spirits, demons in particular, and how they operate. But before having to worry about how they operate, I think what we have to do is recognize that they are real. This is something that your scientific American does not want to acknowledge. Because we cannot see them and we cannot get a grip on them, we think they are not real and that all the problems that exist in the world are simply because of some psychological or emotional problem that somebody has: “It certainly can’t be a spiritual problem because there is no such thing.” Well, the Lord makes very clear that there is such a thing, and if we want to deny the reality of these things, we are really denying what our Faith is about. What do we need redemption from? Why do we need Jesus Christ if there is no devil? If there is no hell that one could fall into then why do we do anything? Everybody, after all, would go to heaven. But we know that is not the case.
The problem is that we do not want to admit the reality. And so we look at the first reading and we see that God is speaking through the prophet Joel and He speaks to the priests and He tells the priests that they are to gird themselves and to weep; they are to spend the night in sackcloth; they are to go and proclaim a fast because the temple of the Lord has been deprived of its offerings. Would that the priests of today would have such an attitude. When we think about our own bishops, when they looked at the scandal which they themselves had caused, they got together about less than a year ago and they declared that the people should have a fast in order to make reparation for the problems the scandal had caused. One bishop out of the entire nation actually had the guts to stand up in front of the rest of them and say what needed to be said: “This is not the problem of the people; this is our fault. The people do not need to fast, we need to fast.” The bishops did not like that idea. It is somebody else’s problem.
When we look at the way the Church is being ransacked today, when we look at the fact that the faithful are being deprived of the sacraments in so many parishes, when we see that the truth is not being preached, and then we see the people lying like sheep without a shepherd because there is no one to teach them, no one to lead them, and then as priests we want to sit back and say, “What’s wrong with the people?” it is not the people’s problem. They are the ones who are dealing with the problem, but it is a problem of the priests. And if the priests do not get their act together, the people are going to be in trouble. Well, they are already. It is something the priests need to start to address within themselves. They need to pray and they need to fast and they need to do penance. That is what the whole thing comes down to.
Saint John Vianney, the great parish priest from Ars, when one of his neighboring priests came to visit him, he said to Saint John Vianney, “I don’t understand. I have been preaching the truth to these people; I have been praying for them; I have been trying to do everything right. I sit in the confessional and no one comes.” Saint John Vianney looked at him and said, “The problem is you don’t fast enough. Begin to fast and your people will come back.” Would that today we would begin to look at this as priests.
When I was at the seminary they had some archives there. As I was working there one day, I came across these funny looking chains that I had never seen before. I did a little research and found out that these were the penance belts that Father Galtier and Father Ravoux wore. They were made out of wire that was simply cut off with pliers, and they stuck right into the flesh around their waist. In the little card that was there it said that the reason why they wore this is because they had life so easy – they got to ride a horse and their predecessors did not have one. Would that the priests of today would think about these sorts of things. The priests of 150 years ago thought that having a horse was a luxury. Today we live in opulence as priests, by comparison, and it shows. And because of the way that priests live – they are not doing penance, they are not praying the way they should, they are not fasting for their people – they are not preaching the truth anymore because they are not living for Jesus Christ but for themselves. If we look at the 34th chapter of the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel, he talks very clearly about what happens to shepherds who shepherd themselves and not the sheep. It will not be a good day for them on the Day of Judgment.
Certainly, for the sake of your own soul, you need to pray for your priests; but the priests need to be praying for their people. That is exactly what Our Lord tells us. The demons have ransacked the house of God and we want to sit back and say, “There is no such thing as a demon, so that couldn’t have happened.” They have led the priests and the people astray, but “the devil doesn’t exist so it couldn’t have been him who did it anyway.” There is nothing more that the devil would want than for us to think that he does not exist, because if we do not think he exists he can do anything he wants; and we will just simply say, “It couldn’t have been the devil anyway because he’s just a figment of our imagination, a medieval myth, after all.” Well, then I guess we would have to say that Jesus Christ cast out a medieval myth. I do not think so. Jesus Christ came down to destroy the kingdom of Satan. And right now, because the priests and the bishops are not doing what they should do, the kingdom of Satan has entered into the kingdom of God; thus the reason why Our Lady has to come and clean the house. But in the meantime, pray that the priests will wake up and that they will recognize what they need to do, that they need to go before the Lord and they need to weep and wail, call a fast, and put on sackcloth (spiritually speaking, anyway). They need to get their act together and they need to stand up and be shepherds for their flocks.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.