Friday June 25, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (2 Kings 25:1-12) Gospel (St. Matthew 8:1-4)
In the first reading today, we hear about the exile of the people of Jerusalem. A couple of days ago, we saw that God spared the city from the attack that the Assyrians had brought upon them because of the fidelity of the people and especially the fidelity of the king, who had tried to get things turned around and brought back true worship of God and the doing of things that were proper. Now we get to another king who was particularly awful. They were sacrificing their babies, they were getting into idol worship, and they were doing all kinds of horrible things. So God allowed the city to be destroyed and then He allowed what would seem to be the absolute unthinkable – that is, for His own temple to be burned to the ground – to be able to demonstrate to the people just how horrible all their atrocities had been.
They thought that because they had the temple of the living God right there in their city that the city would not be destroyed and that certainly God would protect His temple. But, because of the infidelity of the people, we are told in Scripture that God left His temple. It became just a shell. It certainly was still the temple that was built in honor of the living God; yet, at the same time, God had abandoned the temple because the people had abandoned God. Therefore, He allowed not only the city to be sacked, but He allowed His temple to be destroyed.
If we look in the Church over history, we will see the exact same pattern. There are places in history where there have been extraordinary Christian strongholds where the Church was very strong, and today all that you will find are mere ruins of some of the churches. This includes, for instance, the city of Ephesus where Our Lady lived, where Saint John himself was the bishop, where the Council of Ephesus declared that Mary was the Mother of God. There is hardly a Christian to be found anywhere near Ephesus. In some of the areas of Africa, it is the same thing. Where we had great martyrs and great saints, now it has been completely overrun. The same is happening throughout Europe today, and we are beginning to see the start of it happening in America. The reason is the same: the infidelity of the people, the infidelity of those who are in charge, the sacrificing of our babies, the worship of idols, all of the little false gods that people are setting up.
We would like to be able to sit back and say, “Well, Jesus promised that the jaws of hell will never prevail against the Church; therefore, nothing will ever happen to the Church.” Wrong. The jaws of hell will never prevail against the Church – that is a guarantee – but He did not say that nothing would ever happen to the Church, because if the people who want to call themselves Catholic are unfaithful to the Lord, He will allow His Church to be destroyed. In fact, we also know it is a necessity. Jesus Christ is God, yet He allowed Himself to be crucified. The Church is Jesus Christ, and the Church will be crucified at some point as well. It will appear that the Church is dead, it will appear that the Church has been destroyed and completely overrun, but the Church will never be destroyed. It will appear externally that that is the case, and then, as Our Lord did in the Resurrection, the Church will rise glorious and triumphant.
And so the Church at this point has to say to Our Lord exactly what the leper said in the Gospel today: “If You will to do so, You can make me clean.” Now with the leper, God simply spoke the word and he was made clean; that is not normally the way God works. The way that He purifies things is the way that He did in Jerusalem in ancient times. He allowed the evil to be destroyed, He allowed pain and difficulty and suffering to come upon even those who were just and doing what is right so that they would be purified in their faith and their love for God. In that way, the pure worship of God would be restored. The same will be true in the Church. We have been infiltrated, infected, and at this point the leprosy is out of control. God could simply speak the word and everything would be healed, but He could also allow it to happen as He did in ancient times. Since God has not changed, what has happened is a foreshadowing of what will happen. Therefore, at some point, whether it is in our day or up the road somewhere, God is going to allow that in order to heal the ill in the Body there will have to be some severe purification.
Our task is simply to remain faithful, to be like the leper who said, “If You will to do so, You can make me whole; You can heal me,” but then to do whatever the Lord says. In the Gospel, He simply spoke the word; but, as we recall from the time of Elisha when Naaman the Syrian came and his cohorts said to him, “If the prophet would have asked you to do something extraordinary, wouldn’t you have done it,” the same is true for us. We simply need to do whatever God tells us to do. Whatever He is going to allow, we simply need to cooperate and recognize that this is precisely the answer to our prayers. How many times have we wondered, “How long is God going to tolerate this? Why does He put up with it?” We ask Him to purify things, to get rid of the evil so that there can be true and pure worship of God. He is going to answer our prayers – but perhaps not the way we had hoped that He would answer our prayers.
So we need to trust and we need to remain faithful. Regardless of what happens, we need to continue to try our best to offer true and pure worship to God so that as the Church is purified, as the world is purified, so too will our hearts be purified so that what we offer to God will no longer be tainted (even in the hearts of those who are trying) but we will be able to rise above everything else and the worship of God will once again be completely pleasing to Him because it will be coming from hearts that will be truly purified and truly in love with God.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.