Thursday December 9, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Second Week of Advent
Reading (Isaiah 41:13-20) Gospel (St. Matthew 11:11-15)
When we read in the first reading today about the changes that are going to happen, God is telling Israel that they have nothing to fear, all they have to do is trust in God. And when it is made very clear just how small they are – O worm Jacob, O maggot Israel, the Lord says, letting them know that they are among the lowliest on the earth – He tells them that He is going to raise them up to be a threshing sledge (it is going to be new and glorious and sharp and double-edged and so on) and how He is going to take the thirsty and open up rivers in the barren places for them, all of these things that He is going to change upon the earth. And He says that everyone will know it is the Lord, the God of Israel, who has done this.
Then Our Lord speaks in the Gospel reading about a shift that has taken place. He talks about how all the prophets of the law prophesied up until the time of Saint John the Baptist. But He says, since the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffers violence. It is an interesting statement because all of the prophets had been killed. One would think it would be the same thing, that even in the old times (because for several hundred years the people of Israel were persecuted because of their faith and they themselves put the prophets to death) the kingdom of heaven was suffering violence. But it is a realization that the fullness of the kingdom of heaven is only understood in Jesus Christ. So when Saint John the Baptist pointed out Who Our Lord was and they refused to accept his word and put him to death, it was there that the kingdom of heaven in its fullness was suffering violence. It was not just a matter that to a specific people God had sent His prophets to call them back to holiness, to call them to live according to the way of God, but now the fullness of truth was present for everyone, and still it was rejected.
When the kindness and mercy of God showed itself in plain form, people did not want it, and they still do not. Consequently, if someone truly wants to live according to the way of Christ, they too are going to suffer violence, yet this is the way that is going to lead to life. It is the way that we are going to be able, within our own selves, to demonstrate the reality of our faith. That is, if we can accept it the way that John the Baptist did, the way that Jesus did, the way that all the martyrs have done; and that is to accept the persecution, to offer it up to the Lord, to unite it to His suffering. These are the things we can do in the midst of the violence we may suffer so that our faith will be proven. It will be proven more than anything to ourselves because we are the ones who really do not know just how deep and how strong our own faith is.
We have all experienced it when we are up on top of the mountain and everything is great and we tell the Lord that we will do anything at all for Him. And as soon as we step on a little stone on our way down the mountain, well, we are complaining and whining and telling Him that we really do not want to do this anymore. If that happens with a little, tiny pebble that gets in our shoe, what are we going to do when we smash ourselves into a rock, when we fall headlong, if we cannot even handle the pebble?
When we finally learn how to deal with all these things and our faith is indeed secure at that point, then it will shine for everyone else to be able to see. That is the way the kingdom of heaven is going to grow. It grows in us only in the midst of suffering, and it grows among other people when they see the example of someone who is willing to put what they preach into practice. That is not something we can do all by ourselves; only God can do that in us. It is the work of grace; we have to cooperate, but it is the work of grace and all of us know it. There is not one of us who can sit here and say, “Oh, I can do that all by myself.” There is no way. Only God can do that in us, which is why He will look at us today and say, Fear not. There is nothing to be afraid of. He can look at us and say, O worm, O maggot. Look at who He has picked! We are not the ones who are so great and strong that we are going to handle this ourselves. Yet if we are going to have the faith to be able to really live out what it is that we profess, that is God raising us up. By ourselves, we are the lowliest of all. Through God’s grace, we are whatever He wants us to be. So we have nothing to fear, and that is what we have to remember because when people look at the possibility of suffering or whatever it may be, they run away in fear, they do not want it. And the Lord is right there telling us, “You have nothing to fear,” because He is going to be with you through the whole thing. It does not mean it is going to be fun, pleasant, or easy – it isn’t – yet at the same time the fruit is something which is incredibly beautiful. No one who has found it would ever trade it in for anything, and there is only one way to get there – and that is the Cross.
So in us, in the world, the kingdom of heaven suffers violence. But it is only through that that the kingdom of heaven grows and is made perfect in us.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.