Monday March 15, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Third Week of Lent
Reading (2 Kings 5:1-15ab) Gospel (St. Luke 4:24-30)
In the Gospel reading, as Our Lord tells us that no prophet is accepted in his native place, He gives the examples of what happened in the days of Elijah and Elisha, and how it was not to anyone in Israel that they were sent but actually both of them were dealing with people who were pagan, people who were Gentiles from different countries. The point of what the Lord is telling us is that here they have The Prophet right there with them and they refuse to accept.
Remember, of course, with Elijah, that the king and the queen were completely against him. The queen, Jezebel, wanted to kill him, and Ahaz, the king, was always in opposition because he wanted to do evil and God would send Elijah to counter what the king was trying to do. So they were always against the prophet. Even though they knew he was from God, they did not want anything to do with him.
Elisha, on the other hand, as we hear about the situation in the reading today, is the prophet in Israel and this little girl is telling her master about him. Yet when Naaman the Syrian comes to the king, rather than the king saying, “Well, yes, there is a prophet who can help you,” the king tears his garments and says, “Obviously, all he is trying to do is start a fight with me.” Elisha has to send a note saying, “Send him to me that you will recognize that there is a prophet in Israel.” They refused to believe because it was too close.
We can understand how that works. If someone from your own family, your own neighborhood, your own business, whatever it might be, suddenly was raised up by the Lord to do something, which of us would believe? We would say, “Oh, that’s just so-and-so; you know, they’re a little weird anyway. We don’t need to pay attention to any of that!” We would find all kinds of neat excuses to be able to write it off. Now there is a point of being reasonable with this. We should approach these things with some skepticism. Yet at the same time, as Saint John tells us, we have to test every spirit because it is possible that it could be of God. That is the thing we have to be so careful of.
Throughout history, those whom God has raised up to be prophets have usually been rejected and ultimately killed because they are an irritant to the people. The people do not want to hear what the prophets have to say because the prophets are sent by God usually to tell the people what their sins are and to stop sinning, to turn to the Lord so that they can be healed. But because what happens for most of us is that we get so caught up in our sinfulness and we do not want to repent and we do not want to change our lives, we just ignore the prophets. And if we cannot ignore them anymore then we will reject them and ultimately put them to death if we have the power to do so.
That is a problem for us because, of course, The Prophet is always in our midst – and is not that basically what we have done? Not just looking at it in the sense of saying, “It was we who put Him to death because of our sins,” but we still ignore Him. We still reject Him because Jesus is right here 24 hours a day in the Blessed Sacrament and most of that time He is alone. No one comes to talk to Him; no one comes to Him to be healed, to seek direction, to know what God wants in their lives; they just let Him sit there. We know that He is there, but because He is too close – and familiarity breeds contempt – we hold Him in contempt. Not that any of us would actually stand up and say, “Well, yes, I hold Him in contempt,” but the fact is that we pay Him no attention. Are we not holding Him in contempt if we do such a thing? If we really, truly believe what we claim – that He is God and He is truly present in the Blessed Sacrament – then there is nothing lacking on His part; if no one is in front of Him, if no one is praying to Him, if no one is talking to Him, if no one is seeking anything from Him, that is something that is lacking on our part because no prophet is without honor except in his native place and among his own kin. We are brother and sister and mother to the Lord. We are members of His own Body. We are the ones who are the closest to Him. Therefore, we are the ones who tend to hold Him in no esteem. We are the ones who tend to give Him little or no honor that is deserving to Him.
It is very interesting. I was on the radio the other day and there was a Baptist minister who had written in, and he said that he prays 15 decades of the Rosary everyday and the only place that he can find peace is in front of the Blessed Sacrament in a Catholic church. When he goes to his Baptist church, it is cold and it is empty and no one is there. This man spends a couple of hours a day in front of the Eucharist because he recognizes the presence of Christ. Right now in the United States, approximately 300 Protestant ministers a year are becoming Catholic, as well as countless numbers of other Protestant people. They recognize that Jesus is in the Blessed Sacrament and they adore Him and they spend time before Him because what they did not have they now do. And so they do not hold Him in the same contempt that Catholics do (because He has just always been there from the time that we were little babies, and He always is, so we just ignore Him). That is our problem and it is something we need to address because The Prophet is in our midst and we hold Him in little or no esteem.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.