Monday February 16, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Sixth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (James 1:1-11) Gospel (St. Mark 8:11-13)
In the first reading today, we hear from the very beginning of the Letter of Saint James. After Saint James greets the people, the very first thing off his pen are the words: Consider it all joy when you encounter various trials. Now that is not what most of us would consider pure joy. Yet, as Saint James makes clear, it is precisely in the midst of the trials that our virtues are going to grow, that this will lead to perseverance, and perseverance is going to lead to us to being perfect and complete and lacking in nothing. So it is part of God’s fidelity; it is part of His love that He allows the various difficulties to come our way so that our virtue is going to be proven and it is going to grow and be tested. It is only in this way that we are really going to know what kind of virtue we actually have or do not have, as the case may be.
Saint James then goes on to tell us that if someone is lacking in any virtue (he talks particularly about wisdom) we can pray, and he says, It will be given. But you must not doubt because he tells us that if we are doubting, we are of two minds and we are going to get nothing. That is, the one mind is saying, “I know that God will grant me the favors for which I ask because He has made this promise that if I ask in His Holy Name, the Father will give us anything.” Then, on the other hand, we are sitting back saying, “But He is not going to give this to me.” For whatever reason, whatever excuse we come up with, we have already determined that it is not going to happen. And because we do not believe that God is going to do what He promised, He is not going to do anything because we do not trust Him, because we do not believe. So we need to pray in a special way for faith, but it is also that wisdom that Saint James is talking about, the wisdom to be able to know that God is trustworthy, the wisdom to be able to know that no matter what God is going to be faithful to what it is that He has promised. That requires wisdom because wisdom is to put into practice the things that we know.
It is wisdom which Our Lord points to, really, in the Gospel when the Pharisees come to Him and ask for a sign and He says, No sign will be given to this generation. How much of a sign did they need? It would be like us sitting here saying, “Well, we are killing a million and a half babies every year, the vast majority of married couples are contracepting or have sterilized themselves, we are living in an age where people do not go to Mass, where they do not know their faith, we are living in an age where there is pornography every place that you turn,” and then we say to ourselves and to God, “We want a sign! We want to know if things are bad. Show us a sign that something is going to happen.” You would have to be stupid not to be able to see the signs that are present all over. As the Second Vatican Council told us to do, and as Jesus Himself tells us to do, we must learn to interpret the signs of the times. That, again, is where wisdom lies. We are going to look for something that is extraordinary. We want God to intervene in some sort of way to show us, but I must say that by the time that happens it is going to be a little too late because God will have already intervened. And if that is what we are looking for as a sign, we are going to be a dollar short and a day late because we will have missed the sign because we refused to look at everything else that was surrounding us.
So again, this is why, in the midst of our suffering, we can count it as pure joy because our suffering allows us to see things from a different perspective. Where there is no suffering, we tend to look at things in a worldly way and in a very selfish way. When we are made to suffer, we cannot look at it quite that way any longer. And looking at things from a different perspective, we begin to realize that there is much more surrounding us than just the ease and comfort and selfishness that we had thrown ourselves into. It is only in that that the wisdom is going to be received. It is only in that that we are going to begin to understand that the signs abound if we would simply open our eyes and our hearts to be able to recognize them. That is the point of being able to rejoice in the sufferings and the trials that come our way. Not because we think they are fun, not because it is some kind of a party atmosphere that in our debauchery we are going to rejoice in our selfishness, not at all; but rather, because we can see when we are made to suffer – we can see with new eyes – we can begin to understand the way that God is working. We will be purified through the suffering, and in that purification we will be able to see clearly the Will of God and the abundance of the signs that surround us so that we will be able to discern God’s Will and be able to carry it out in our lives.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.