In the School of Trust
February 15, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I (Jeremiah 17:5-8) Reading II (1 Corinthians 15:12, 16-20)
Gospel (St. Luke 6:17, 20-26)
In the first reading today from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah, we hear a very strongly worded statement: Cursed are those who trust in human beings. Now we need to ask ourselves just exactly what the prophet means. Does it mean that we can have no trust in a human being? Certainly not. Obviously, a married couple needs to be able to trust one another. Parents need to be able to trust their children, and children need to be able to trust their parents. We all have people who we can trust and we need to. At the same time, there is a realization that no matter how much we trust in this individual they are not going to be able to get us to heaven. They are not the end-all and be-all of life. But the bigger concern that the prophet has is not so much of whether a person is trustworthy, because, after all, as Christian people that is something which is incumbent upon us; we are all called to live a life of virtue: to be honest, to be upright, to be trustworthy. So it is not a matter of the prophet saying that nobody is worthy of being trusted and therefore do not trust them, but rather the concern that the prophet has is more of the human way of dealing with things. What many of us try to do is not so much look to whom one marries, but rather to look at other situations within our lives. How many of us might try to align ourselves with someone with money or someone with power? We look for a certain position, thinking that this is going to provide all the security we are going to need for our lives. That is more of what the prophet is talking about. It is to be able to say that if what we are looking for is some kind of security in another human being, thinking, “If I can only align myself with this moneyed individual then I’m going to be taken care of for life,” that is where the prophet is saying that it is not going to work. It may well be that you will have plenty of money for the rest of your life, but the real question is not about this life – it’s about the next life.
When we look at the second reading today, Saint Paul talks about the implications of the Resurrection, and if Jesus has not been raised from the dead just exactly what follows from that. Then he makes a statement toward the end of today’s reading which says, If our hope in Christ is for this life only, then we are the most pitiable of all men. If our hope in Christ is in this life only… So the point that the prophet is ultimately making has to do with the next life; it has to do with looking beyond this world and into the next. But trust, which is one of the most difficult of all the virtues to develop, can only be developed in this life as we look beyond this life and into the next. And so we ask ourselves, “How exactly is God going to develop this virtue of trust?” First, we have to understand that trust is part of the virtue of hope. It is really under that umbrella of hope that trust falls, and that is where we need to be able to look.
Now, with any virtue, the way that God develops a virtue in this life is to make us put it into practice. As we have seen many times over, for instance, if you pray for patience, God will put you in situations where you are going to have to be patient. If you have a problem of the mouth running over, God will put you in positions where you are going to be tempted to speak out of turn and you are going to have to put a guard over your tongue. If you are going to grow in trust, God is going to put you into positions where you are going to have to trust Him. That means He is going to put you in positions where things are not going to work quite the way that you think they ought to. And so, if security, for instance, is a big issue, God might take it away. If money is a big issue, God might remove it. It could be health, it could be family, it could be any variety of suffering or deprivation that we might have to endure.
Keep in mind also that as a virtue grows we have to be tested on a deeper level. So at the beginning of the process of growing in the virtue of hope, and particularly in this case the virtue of trust, God will ask us to trust in small matters. He will put us into a situation where we think that we have always been able to be in control (control is the opposite side of trust). None of us likes to be out of control, and so what do you think God is going to do if He wants you to grow in trust? He is going to put you in a situation where you are going to be out of control. You are backed into a corner. You have always been able to handle this one all by yourself, or you have always been able to rely on this person or on this thing or on this money or whatever it might be. Suddenly, you are going to find yourself in the situation where you cannot rely on anything or anyone, and you are going to have to call out to God. You are going to have to let go and you are going to have to make an act of the will to say, “Lord, I trust in You.”
If we took a poll right now and said, “Everyone who trusts God, raise your hand,” I suspect, and I hope, that everyone would raise their hand. Theoretically, we all trust God. After all, we would look at it and say, “God being Who He is – He cannot lie, He is all-good, He is perfect, He is all-loving – of course I can trust Him! Why wouldn’t I trust Him?” Until it comes to practice, then we are going to find out how much we really do trust; or, for most of us, how little we really trust Him. And so, backed into this corner in just a small matter, we call out to the Lord and we actually will have to take what we have in theory and put it into practice and say, “Lord, there is nothing I can do. I’m backed into this corner; I have no choice.” Tragically, the way we have to acknowledge that we do things is to say, “I have tried everything, so now I’m coming to You. Instead of coming to You first, I’m coming last. But I’m coming to You. It’s out of my control; there’s nothing I can do. You’re going to have to get me out of this situation.” And He will. Then you look at it and say, “You know, that worked out pretty well.” And then He will put you into another situation, just slightly larger; then a bigger one, and a bigger one, and a bigger one as you continue to go along.
We look at these sorts of things and think, “If I prayed for trust, it’s possible that I could lose some of what I’m relying on. The person that I’m putting all my trust in might betray me. The money might be gone. I could get sick! Things might turn sour in my life. I might have to suffer! I’m going to be out of control if I ask God to give me trust.” So naturally we are going to say, “I’m not going to ask for it. I’m not sure that I want to pray for such a gift as trust because look at the cost to be able to get it.” Well, let me put it into a context for you. The reason why God would do these things is not because He hates us – it is because He loves us.
Again, our trust ultimately has to be in the promises of God. He promised us that He would take care of us. He has made a variety of promises to us that we all know in theory but most of us do not put them into practice. And so when we look at the little things in life that we get backed into a corner on and we are very nervous and upset, what are we going to do when it comes to the big things, the ultimate things? As Saint Paul said again in the second reading, “If our hope in Christ is for this life only, we are the most pitiable of men.” What about the promise of the resurrection? What about the promise of eternal life? What about the promise that your sins will be forgiven? How are you going to trust God on those things if you cannot even trust Him in little things? If you get backed into a corner on a small matter and you are sweating and shaking and worried and upset, what would happen if you found yourself on your deathbed and the devil is right there saying to you, “There is no heaven. There is no eternal life. Well, yeah, there is, but it’s not for you because your sins haven’t been forgiven. You really think somebody like you could be forgiven? How do you know that when the priest said the words of absolution your sins were really gone? Do you have proof? Yeah, Jesus made promises about the resurrection, but do you really think that this body which is lying here dying is going to rise from the dead? Do you really believe in eternity in heaven? Do you really think that your soul is immortal and that you’re going to live on beyond this world? Do you really trust someone that you cannot see?” That is why God allows us to deal with trusting Him in small matters like money, health, family, jobs, relationships, and any variety of struggles and sufferings that we have to endure. It is so that we learn to trust Him, that we learn that He is in fact trustworthy (not in theory, but in practice) so that when it comes to the last day and the last hour of our lives, it is not going to be a problem. We are going to be able to look Satan right in the face and say, “You know what? God has proven Himself over and over and over and over again in my life. I put my trust in Him and He has not let me down. I am going to trust in Him still. He has fulfilled every other promise that He made, and He will fulfill this one too.” But if we have never been put into a position where we have had to trust Him, we will not be able to say that. The best we can do is to say, “Well, God made some promises and I’m not sure if He’s going to keep them or not because I’ve never been sure my whole life if He’s going to keep them because I’ve never been able to trust Him enough to find out if He’ll keep them.”
So we need to pray, to beg God for this gift of trust, for this virtue that is absolutely essential for our lives. If we shudder at the thought, go back and read the first reading again: Cursed is the one who trusts in human beings. On the other hand: Blessed is the one who trusts in God. Those are really the only two options we have. If you just think about it for a few moments, the person, the money, the object upon which you are placing your trust is not going to be with you on the Day of Judgment; you are going to stand alone before God. That is where you are going to need to have your trust, not in anything else, because ultimately putting your trust in anything else is to be alone, to be like “a barren bush in an empty lava waste” as the prophet Jeremiah says. That is the definition of a person who goes to hell: to rely on oneself, to trust only in “me”. We can spend eternity with ourselves – what a miserable existence! – because we cannot let go and we cannot trust because we do not want to be out of control. Or we can trust in God. We can look to Him, we can trust Him, and we can let Him be in control. That is what eternity will be in heaven where we will not have to worry about a thing and we will look at God and spend eternity with Him. That is what this is really all about.
Beg God for the gift of trust. Prepare yourself for what will follow, but do not worry about it. God is not going to give you anything more than what you can handle with His help, and it is the way that He is going to answer your prayer. If you are earnest about it, He will provide. He will give you opportunities to put your trust into practice and to learn that God is trustworthy so that on the Day of Judgment you will have absolutely nothing to fear because you will have learned that God fulfills all His promises. And when you look forward into what appears to be the Great Unknown, you will be at peace because you will know the promises of Christ. As He has demonstrated Himself to be trustworthy in small things, so you will be able to trust completely in the big things – and in the biggest thing of all: salvation and eternal life.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.