Thursday January 15, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier First Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (1 Samuel 4:1-11) Gospel (St. Mark 1:40-45)
In the first reading today from the First Book of Samuel, we hear about this battle between the Israelites and the Philistines, and because of the infidelity of the people God allowed His people to be defeated. What was even worse is that when they finally decided that maybe what they needed to do in order to keep from being defeated was to bring the ark of the covenant up, God not only allowed the priests who brought the ark along to be killed, but He allowed the ark itself to be captured and to be brought into the Philistines’ camp.
Now one would ask the simple question: Why? If this is God, why would He allow this to happen? It would be as if we were to say there was a problem and we were going to bring the Blessed Sacrament out and we were going to march with the Blessed Sacrament before us. Naturally, those of us with faith would say, “We have the Lord right here. He is going with us and this is going to solve our problem.” Of course, if we really had faith it would. But the problem is what came before this, that is, the infidelity heaped upon infidelity of the people, as well as of the priests that were serving in the temple at Shiloh. Suddenly, they pull out the ark of the covenant as though it is magic and this is supposed to solve all of their problems, but for all practical purposes they had been paying no attention to God for a long time. They had not been faithful to the covenant, and now at the last minute when they think that they need some help, they are going to turn to God and then they are going to be upset because God did not do what they wanted Him to do.
We need to learn that same lesson. As we look at what is going on in the Church today, as we look at what is going on in the world today, we know that our only hope is Jesus Christ. There is no alternative, thanks be to God! However, what that implies is that we need to truly repent of our infidelities to the Lord and we need to get down on our knees and pray, but there are many people who do not see this. What will happen eventually is that as things get bad enough, suddenly, in a superstitious kind of way, people are going to say, “Well, what we need to do is call on the Name of the Lord and He’ll save us from this.” They will not be repentant of their sins, they have no intention of being faithful to Christ, they just want Him to come out of the sky and solve all their problems so they can go on with their sins. It is not going to work.
Now the part that seems unjust to us is that God is going to allow the faithful to suffer along with the unfaithful, and we would wonder why. Well, first of all, it is because we have not always been so faithful and so we probably have some things that we need to make up for, some reparation for past sins that we need to do; on top of that, we need to be willing to offer up the suffering that will be endured at that time – and which is being endured at this time – for the conversion of souls, for the salvation of others. If the Lord has given to you the grace to be able to call upon Him, to turn to Him daily in prayer, and to turn your life around, now He is going to ask you to do for others what someone else has done for you. After all, you just simply have to ask, “How’s it possible that I got my life turned around? I didn’t do it on my own, I know that, which means that somebody else must have been doing some praying and offering up some penances for me in order to get my act squared around.” Out of charity, we should be willing to do the same for others. So it is not an injustice that the Lord would allow the faithful to suffer with the unfaithful, the good to suffer with the bad. Again, just look at what He Himself tells us: “God allows the sun to shine on the good and the bad, the rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” He is going to do the same thing the other way. When it is time to punish, it is going to befall everyone; not all in the same manner, but nonetheless, everyone is going to have to deal with it. But if one has a prayer life, one will have everything necessary to be able to work through it without much problem.
Again, it just comes down to our disposition. We cannot be looking at God as some sort of divine magician that is going to swoop down out of heaven and suddenly intervene to solve our problems so we can continue with our sins, but rather we must be truly seeking to live according to the Faith. We have to seek that union with Jesus Christ. Then when times get really bad you will be able to help others to seek Christ because they will be able to see in you that there is a peace, that there is a trust, that there is a confidence that they do not have; and the only reason that is going to be there in you is because you pray. But if you do not, you are not going to be able to lead anybody to Christ because if that happens and times get bad and you fall into the same trap as everyone else and start cursing God because He did not bail you out of the problem, all that is going to happen is that we will all walk together to the devil and we are not going to be leading anyone to Christ.
So we have to start now. We have to develop a life of prayer and we have to look to Christ. We have to realize that we are just like the leper in the Gospel – we cannot heal ourselves. Our only hope is Christ. He will heal us but we have to leave it up to Him to decide how that is going to happen. We have to trust. We have to have that confidence that this leper had in the Gospel to be able to say, “Lord, if You will it, You can do it,” and then we need to trust Him. This is our point now. It is of absolute necessity for each one of us to develop a true life of prayer and to live the Faith to the best of our ability, not just an external observance of certain practices and rituals but to change the heart, to go inside and to truly live the Faith that we profess, to develop that relationship with Jesus Christ so that we not only realize that He is our only hope but when times get really bad what will happen for us is what happens every day: We will turn to Him, we will go deep inside of ourselves, and we will trust and be at peace with complete confidence in Christ.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.