True Prayer is Work, Not Consolation
Friday December 3, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier First Week of Advent
Reading (Isaiah 29:17-24) Gospel (St. Matthew 9:27-31)
In the Gospel reading today, Our Lord tells the two blind men that He can heal them but they have to make this act of faith. Do you believe that I can do this? He asks them. But He asks them about this only after He makes them follow Him. Now this would seem to be a particularly cruel kind of thing: These two men were blind, and Jesus required that they follow Him all the way until He entered into the house where He was staying, and then turned to them and said, Do you believe that I can do this? So these two men had to truly make an act of faith and they had to make quite an effort to be able to be healed.
We see in this that there is something of the way the Lord works with us. We like to think that God would just simply zap us and take care of everything and that would be it. We should all be taken care of in an instant. Whatever our problems are, God can just infuse the grace into us and that will take care of it all. He could; He can do whatever He wants. But, most of the time, He is going to make us work at it, not because we do not think that He could do it, but rather because God wants to see how much it means to us and what kind of effort we are willing to put forward.
If we look, for instance, at the prayer life, we could all sit back today and say, “Well, if God wanted to, He could just make me a mystic right now. He could just give me the grace and I’d be at the height of the spiritual life. Wouldn’t that be great?” He could do that, except that is not normally the way He works because if something like that happened what would probably occur is we would be so arrogant about what happened that it would actually be worse for us. So He requires that we have to work at it. Like the blind men, we follow blindly. We walk in the darkness and we try to keep on track as we seek the Lord, running into various things along the way and not exactly knowing where the door is that we are supposed to enter. We walk right into it sometimes, but nonetheless, as we grope our way through this, in time we will find exactly where we need to be. But He is going to make us work at it, and it is hard work.
People think that the prayer life should be easy, that it should be fun, that it should be all consolation. That is not what happens at all. Once in a very great while there is consolation. Once in a very great while one can sort of float away from prayer, saying, “That was wonderful.” But the saints tell us when that happens we really did not get much out of prayer. It is when things are difficult, when we have to be blind and grope around and try to follow the Lord when we cannot see very well – or at all, for that matter – that prayer is actually the best because then we are walking in the blindness of faith. The Lord will look at us and say, Do you believe that I can do this? and we will continually say, “Yes.” Not so much “yes” to the fact that He is suddenly going to take away our spiritual blindness and everything is going to be great and we are going to have all this insight; but rather “yes” to the fact that, if He chooses to do so, He can keep us walking along this path and He can make us holy. He can bring us to the heights of the spiritual life because it is not we ourselves who are able to do it.
The reality of the matter is that even though we seem completely blind, God in His mercy is actually enlightening us all the way along. As we grope in the darkness of prayer, suddenly what we are going to find is that there is new insight into Our Lord, new insight into Scripture, new insight into the sacraments, new insight into people, all these various things, and we realize that our spiritual blindness is actually resulting in great clarity because God is healing us.
So if we ask that question of ourselves – “Do I really believe that He can do this?” – then we need to be willing to do exactly what these two blind men did in the Gospel reading. We need to be willing to follow Him in our blindness, not expecting that He is simply going to come to us and say, “Do you want Me to heal you?” Rather, He is going to require that we make the effort and follow Him, even though we are blind, because we know where He is; we can figure it out. We know the path. He is right there in the Blessed Sacrament, even though we cannot see Him. All we need to do is come to Him and open our hearts and fix them on Him, and He will heal us. But we have to be willing to make the effort, and we have to be willing to make the act of faith.
He is going to look at each and every one of us, today and every day, and He is going to ask that same question. He is going to require the same effort, and He is going to require of us the same act of faith. So today He looks at us and He speaks in our hearts and He asks us the simple question: Do you believe that I can do this for you? If we are going to answer “yes” then we know it requires faith and it requires effort – and it will be done according to our faith.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.