Wednesday January 5, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Week After Epiphany
Reading (1 John 4:11-18) Gospel (St. Mark 6:45-52)
In the first reading today, we see that there are different levels of love. We hear about the fact that God remains in us and we remain in Him as long as we believe. If we have that faith in Jesus, then the love of God is with us. Saint John says, This is how we can know that He remains in us and we in Him, by the Spirit that He has given us. As long as we are in the state of grace, the Holy Spirit dwells within; consequently, the love of God is there because we are in the state of grace. But then he goes even further and tells us about perfect love. He tells us that love is to be brought to perfection within us. It is not just a matter of having a minimum of charity, but rather it is to be able to achieve perfect charity that we have to be about.
This love, he tells us, is brought to perfection when we have no fear; and he says that fear has to do with judgment, and as long as we are in this world as He is then there is nothing to fear. If we consider the life of Our Lord, He was not afraid. He lived His life. He stood up to the people who wanted to kill Him, those who rejected Him and hated Him, and He was not afraid because He knew that what He was doing was right. Even when it came to His crucifixion, He embraced it. He was not afraid (because, of course, His love is perfect) and He accepted it and offered it for us.
On the other hand, we see the apostles in the Gospel. They are out, storm-tossed on the sea, and Jesus comes walking toward them. They think that He is a ghost and they are all terrified. And we say, “Well, if they’re afraid, what does that have to do with judgment?” It has to do with the fact that they thought something was going to happen to them. They took their eyes off of God and they focused on themselves. That is where we see that love is not perfect. But it is precisely in this imperfection of the love that we have the next statement Saint Mark makes. Their hearts were hardened, he tells us, and they did not understand about the loaves.
What we also see, then, is that the more we love and the more perfectly we love, not only will our hearts be opened, but beyond that there is going to be greater understanding. The mind is going to be opened, because when the heart is more perfectly united with God, there will be greater insight, there will be greater knowledge. It is not book knowledge; it is not a matter of being able to sit down and studiously figure these things out, but rather it is as Saint Gregory Nazianzen said some seventeen hundred years ago when he was talking about theologians. He said, A theologian’s ability is equal to the depth of his prayer. In other words, it is not about “head” knowledge. If you want to understand God, it is about going deeper in the heart, it is about perfecting love. The more we love God, the more the Spirit is going to be able to work within us because we are not putting up any roadblocks, our hearts will not be hardened, and we will be able to understand.
If you just simply think back about the saints who have taught us about the Trinity, about the two natures of Christ, about all the various mysteries of our faith, it gives you an insight into the depth of their prayer if they were able to have understanding of these mysteries. If we want to understand Who Jesus is, if we want to have a greater appreciation for the Eucharist, if we want to be able to live our faith out in the world without being embarrassed and without being afraid, there is only one way – and that is to love Him more. And there is only one way to love Him more – and that is to spend time with Him in prayer and go deeper in the heart so the love is perfected. That is exactly what Our Lord is calling us to.
So there is the point of the minimal kind of love for God, that is, merely being in the state of sanctifying grace and believing in the Name of Jesus, but that is not merely what God is calling us to. He does not want the least for us; He does not want the minimum for us. God wants that love to be perfected in us so that even in this world, as Saint John says, we are as He is. Imagine that: to live in this world as Jesus is right now. That is what love will do for us. That is what prayer will do for us. It unites us to Him; it conforms us to Him; it transforms us into Him. That is the Christian call. It is not for the elite few – it is for all. Unfortunately, only a few will ever do it because most are too afraid. An interesting irony: It is this which casts out all fear, but we are afraid to do it. You see where the devil has a hold on us. You see where our hearts are hardened and our minds are closed. We need to trust Him because He is love. We do not need to be like the apostles who were afraid when Jesus walked by. We need to be reassured and we need to be at peace. We need to enter our hearts and allow Him to love us; and, in return, to love Him as we have been loved.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.