Walking in the Ways of Love
Friday July 23, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Jeremiah 3:14-17) Gospel (St. Matthew 13:18-23)
Our Lord, through the prophet Jeremiah, speaks at that time about what would be happening in the future. Jeremiah was living around 500 or 600 years before Our Lord, and it was at the time when the people went into exile because of their disobedience. Recall that the people of Israel had the Ark of the Covenant as their most holy and sacred possession, and what a shock it would have been to hear the prophet say that the day will come when they will no longer say, “The ark of the Lord,” nor will they miss it nor will they try to build another one. This is something that the Jewish people could not have even fathomed at that time. Well, interestingly, from the time of the prophet Jeremiah until now, the Ark of the Covenant has not been seen. There is a replica of the ark that was built for an island where the Jews had gone into exile (that [the replica] is now down in Ethiopia), but the actual ark, according to Scripture, is in a cave on Mount Nebo where the prophet Jeremiah put it. And he put rocks in front of the cave so no one will find it until all the children of Israel are gathered together.
To this day, the Jewish people are not saying anything about the ark and they are not trying to build a new one. The reason is, of course, because we have the new Ark of the Covenant who is our Blessed Lady, and we have the New Covenant who is Our Lord. God has taken what was there – already sacred and beautiful, but only a symbol of what was to come – and He has now given to us a New Covenant. And in that New Covenant which was carried in the new Ark of the Covenant, we have the means by which we will be able to walk, as the prophet said, “no longer in hardheartedness.”
That is exactly what God is looking for: hearts that are open to be able to receive His Word, as Our Lord made very clear in the Gospel reading today, the type of heart that is seeking the Lord, that is not going to have all kinds of worldliness within, that is not going to be afraid, that is not just going to be a flash in the pan; but rather a heart that is truly seeking Him, that desires His Word and desires to live according to His Word. That is what Our Lord is looking for, and that is possible. It was not very possible according to the old way because, as Saint Paul makes clear, that was a law that was written in stone. But now we follow a covenant which is written in our hearts, so it is all there. In the Old Testament, to be able to truly open the heart to the Lord was not easy because it was a following of external laws. In the New Testament, it is made very simple because it is a matter of loving a Person.
So everything is already there for our success; all we have to do is choose it, which is not an easy thing because, for any of us, if we simply try to go inside and say, “Now, open your heart and let the Lord in; give it all over to the Lord,” that is a terrifying prospect. We are all afraid of being hurt, we are afraid of being violated, we are afraid to be vulnerable, and therefore we slam the doors of our hearts shut and we do not open them even to the Lord. That is something we all have to look at in prayer: Am I opening my heart to the Lord? Not just a little crack in the door, but to really open the heart, to give it over to Christ. And it is not just giving lip service, as I am sure we have all gone to prayer many times over and said, “Lord, take it all. I’m Yours. Take whatever You want. Here’s my heart; enter in. Do whatever needs to be done.” That is all up here in the head. I am talking about getting down into the heart and actually doing it because, even though we have given Him permission, He is not going to violate us. He is not going to push Himself on us in a way that we are not willing to do. So even though we want it, we do not will it, and that is what we have to do. It is not a question of the head; it is a question of the heart.
And so if we want no longer to walk in our hardheartedness then what we need to do is allow our hearts to be soft, and that means to open them to Christ, to allow that covenant which is written in our hearts to grow, to flourish, and to bear fruit for the Lord. To bear fruit for the Lord requires only one thing, and that is to love Him – and that means to love Him in our hearts and from our hearts, to let Him in, to let Him become the King of our hearts, to be enthroned there, to be loved there, to be worshiped there, to be served there. That is what we need to be able to do, and that is the biggest challenge of our entire life. As wonderful as it sounds, it is not easy. Sin has hampered our ability, Satan’s lies have hampered our ability, and our own fear gets in the way and makes it very, very difficult for us to do this. But that is what the Lord places before us. It is not beyond us because we have Our Lord. We have the New Covenant, we have redemption, and so all these things are possible – not by ourselves, but by His grace. So we need to pray and we need to ask Him to do this in us and for us so that we will be able to cooperate and open our hearts and no longer walk in the ways of hardhearted wickedness, but walk according to the New Covenant in the ways of love.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.