Monday March 22, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier   Fourth Week of Lent


Reading (Isaiah 65:17-21)    Gospel (St. John 4:43-54)


In the Gospel reading today, we see this man, the royal official, who is willing to walk for approximately two days to be able to come and ask Jesus for the favor of healing his son. Having made that effort, the man gets chastised by Our Lord, Who tells him, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe.” The man continues to press to ask Our Lord for what it is that he is seeking. And when Our Lord tells him that he may go and his son will live, it is when the man believed and he turned around and began walking home. Now he came hoping that Our Lord would come with him; he came hoping that Our Lord would come back with him to lay His hands upon this child, or to pray over him, or to do something that would actually bring the child back to health. When the man saw nothing, he had to make a pure act of faith. He had already made an act of faith that Jesus was able to heal his son. He had made a strong enough act of faith that he was willing to leave his home and walk to the place where Jesus was, and then he had to walk away having seen nothing, but having merely to believe in the word that Our Lord had spoken.


When we see the kind of faith this man had, we begin to realize what it is that Our Lord is seeking in each one of us. He wants us to believe. And the question is: How much do we believe? For many of us, we believe as long as it is convenient, as long as we do not have to go out of our way, as long as there is not any hardship involved in the believing, and of course as long as we can live according to the adage: Seeing is believing. Well, that is not the way it works with God. The question that God is going to ask is: Do you believe even when it is hard? Do you believe enough to be inconvenienced by your faith? Do you believe even when you cannot see? That is very difficult.


Saint John of the Cross tells us, however, that it is in the darkness of faith – that is, when you can see nothing; in fact, it feels like and seems like you are going backwards at times – he says it is then that you have the most sure path to God. If you are seeking union with God, it is not going to be found in all kinds of external signs and wonders; but rather it is going to be found most perfectly in the darkness of faith when we believe without seeing, when we have no proof that what God has told us is going to in fact be done, other than His promise. He Who has made the promise is trustworthy. He Who made the promise cannot deceive and He cannot be deceived.


Now we know, of course, in our heads about Who God is and that He is trustworthy and we know the promises He has made, but the problem is not what is in our head – the problem here is what is in the heart, or the lack thereof for most of us. And so that is what we have to work on, which is why Our Lord in His mercy allows us to have to deal with the darkness, to have to deal with the idea that we do not see, that we have to suffer at times and we do not understand. We have to struggle against our own self because everything in us at that time says, “He’s not doing what He promised. Where is your faith? How can you believe?”


This man, from quite far away, had to believe without seeing. Without any evidence, he had to simply believe in the word that Jesus spoke to him. So too, do we. When we look at the words of Our Lord and all of the things He has said and promised, we know them all. We have heard them hundreds and hundreds of times. They sound real good to us, but most of us really do not believe them because we do not see them. We do not see the reality of it in our own lives. Consequently, it is not that we do not accept that this could be the truth; we just simply do not put it into practice because our faith is not strong enough to do so. That is why the Lord allows some of those interior struggles: to strengthen our faith so that even in the darkness we will be able to believe with the same kind of belief, that is, with the same strength – and in fact, with an even greater strength of faith – than if we were actually to see something right before our eyes. That is the kind of faith God is looking for from us: to believe what it is that He has said and to put it into practice by the way we live.


*  This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.