Thursday December 30, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Sixth Day in the Octave of Christmas
Reading (1 John 2:12-17) Gospel (St. Luke 2:36-40)
In the Gospel reading today, we hear about this extraordinary lady by the name of Anna who had lived as a widow until she was eighty-four years old. To be a widow, of course, in any age is a difficult thing, but in that particular culture it was very difficult because it meant you could not have a job and there was no way you would be able to support yourself. Here is a woman, then, who was in the temple day and night with fasting and prayer, trusting entirely in the Lord to provide for her, which He obviously did for all of those years and then provided for her in the greatest way. Because of her fidelity, because of her prayer, because of her looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem, she was rewarded with the greatest gift that could be given: She was able to recognize who the Messiah was. As this little Baby is brought into the temple, there is immediate understanding that this is indeed the Messiah. She was able, then, to speak of Him to all of the people; and they were able, then, to at least know this was the case even if they could not recognize it as she did.
But it helps us to be able to see the way that we can be. Most of us do not have the kind of luxury to be able to be in the church day and night with fasting and prayer, but it brings up the point once again: If we want to be able to see what God is doing, if we want to know how to do His Will and recognize it in our lives, there is only one way – and that is prayer. If we are not deeply rooted in prayer, we are not going to see what God is doing. It does not matter how much we want to talk about God, it does not matter how much we want to try to convince ourselves of how Catholic we are, if we are not praying, number one, we are not living a Christian life, let alone a Catholic life; and, number two, if we are not praying, we will not be able to recognize what God is trying to do in our own lives, in the world, in the Church, any of it.
Without prayer, in the midst of what we are enduring right now and what we are going to continue to endure, we are going to despair. Without prayer, chances are that most people are going to fall away because if we look around at all the things, the question that is going to come up is: “Where is God? Why is He allowing all of this to happen? If God really cared, He wouldn’t do this. If He really loved us, He wouldn’t be allowing this sort of thing to happen.” If anybody has been watching, you will notice that people are filtering away. Our Lord made it clear how bad things are going to get (this is not the end of the world; He was talking about that time, but certainly this is a precursor to it) when He said, If the time were not shortened, even the elect would fall away. In other words, those who are deeply rooted in prayer are going to be tested so severely that they would fall away if it were not shortened. What about the rest of us? If we are not deeply rooted in prayer, we are going to be swept away very quickly. So we need to make sure we are learning a lesson from what we see today. This extraordinary woman, who spent her life in prayer and fasting, was the one who was able to recognize who this Baby was.
Now Saint John makes very clear the opposite. He says, What the world has to offer is sensual lusts, enticements for the eyes, and a pretentious life. We can look at that and we all know where it gets us, don’t we, because most of us have probably engaged ourselves in some of that and we know it does not work. So we can look at God or we can look at all the other stuff. There are only those two possibilities. If we are not looking at God and we are all caught up in ourselves and in the world, then when God is trying to work we are not going to recognize it because we are not looking at Him, because we are not seeking Him.
And we need to be very careful when we go to prayer not to try to tell God what He is supposed to be doing or how He is supposed to do it. We simply need to wait. We need to sit at His feet and we need to allow Him to show us because it certainly does not work to try to tell God how to do His job. He does it quite well all by Himself; He does not need our help on that level. What He needs us for is to do His Will. We need to ask Him what His Will is. We need to seek it out, and we need to wait until He shows us. That is the point we have to be about.
As we continue forward, for anyone who truly wants to live the life to which God is calling him, it is absolutely crucial that you must pray. And I am not talking about “saying” prayers – I am talking about being deep in prayer, spending time in prayer, going deep into the heart and allowing the Lord to purify things there so that the eyes of your soul will be clear. And when the Lord works, you, like Anna, will be able to recognize it and then be able to tell all the people what it is that God is doing so the works of God will be recognized and we will not despair, we will not fall away, but we will see what He is doing and we will remain faithful to the end.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.