The Desert Where Jesus Dwells is Our Own Heart
Thursday January 13, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier First Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Hebrews 3:7-14) Gospel (St. Mark 1:40-45)
In the Gospel reading today, we hear about this leper who comes to Our Lord, kneels before Him, and says, If you wish to do so, you can heal me, and the Lord in His mercy reaches out to the man. Recall that, for the Jewish people, to touch a leper would make you unclean and so a leper would be a person who had not been touched in a very long time. Yet Our Lord reaches out to touch him and He heals him. Then we are told after that that He could no longer enter a town openly, but He stayed in deserted places and the people kept coming to Him.
We see that the importance of this is a couple of points. Number one, because of sin, we are lepers spiritually. We have this infection on our soul that eats it up from the inside out. There is only one way to get rid of it, and that is to come to the Lord and beg Him to heal us. But the other point that is important in this is to recognize where we are going to find Him: in deserted places.
It is not just a simple task to be able to see Him, to find Him. On one level, it is because He is right there in the Blessed Sacrament and we know where we can find Him. Tragically, places of prayer have become deserted places these days with almost nobody there in front of the Lord. But besides that, even if we come to Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, it is not a simple thing to find Him in the Blessed Sacrament. We know in our heads that He is there because we have been taught about the reality and the truth regarding the Real Presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, but in our hearts it is there that we might harbor doubt. It is there that we might wonder because we do not see and we cannot feel, but the reality that He is there is no less real. Just as the people of old had to make an effort to be able to go and see Him, so do we. Even though it is not much of an effort to be able to come to the church, to a Blessed Sacrament chapel, it is still going to require an effort on our part to be able to get to that point of being able to be fully united with Him in the Eucharist, to get to that point of being able to truly know – not intellectually, but in the heart – that Jesus truly is there.
This is critical for us today because Saint Paul, after quoting this point from Psalm 95, reminds us that we need to be very careful that we do not have an evil and unfaithful heart so as to forsake the living God. And how, he says, are we going to forsake the living God? By being hardened by the deceit of sin, by giving into spiritual leprosy. So if we are going to be faithful to Our Lord, if we are going to have a pure heart that is going to be truly faithful and not lured away by the deceit of sin, once again, there is only one possible way that is going to happen, and that is prayer. That is sitting down in front of the Lord and seeking Him with our whole heart. It is spending substantial time with Him in the depths of our heart. How else are we going to get there?
Even going to Confession, for a lot of people, is just sort of a rote thing. It is not something that they really look into the depths of their heart to be able to see where they have been unfaithful to the Lord. It is more of an exercise of the mind – “This is what I did” – but it is not true repentance from the heart. It is not coming to the Lord and saying to Him, If You will to do so, You could heal me, because tragically many of us do not really want to be healed because we like the sin. And because we like our sins too much, we are not really going to make much of an effort to find Jesus in a deserted place. Then the reality strikes home that the deserted place where Jesus dwells is our own heart and we do not want to seek Him there.
The people of old made the effort to find Him because they wanted to hear Him, because they wanted to be healed. What about us? Do we really want to hear Him? Do we really want to be healed? Do we really want to find Him in that desert we call our heart? It is there that He dwells all by Himself, and He desires that we would find Him. He desires that we would have union with Him. It is His will that we would be healed; the question is, is it ours? Do we really want it and are we willing to make the effort that it is going to require? If we do not, then we are going to be affected and infected by an evil and unfaithful heart that will be hardened by the deceit of sin. If that is the case, then we will forsake the living God. But if we are willing to seek Him in that desert place, if we are truly willing to be healed, then the heart is no longer going to be unfaithful and evil. It is going to reject the deceit of sin, and it will be faithful and never forsake God no matter what the external circumstances may be, because interiorly we will know the truth and we will be united with the truth in the depths of our hearts. No matter what happens, we will remain faithful to Him as He remains faithful to us. And He and we can be alone and united in the greatest desert in the world: our own heart.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.