Friday January 28, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Third Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Hebrews 10:32-39) Gospel (St. Mark 4:26-34)
Our Lord, in today’s Gospel reading, tells us that the kingdom of God is like the seed that is planted in the soil. It begins to grow and the farmer knows not how it happens, but it just happens on its own. What happens with the kingdom of God is that it is planted within us. We begin to pray and we begin to try to develop virtue, and we notice how it grows. It is a fascinating thing to watch because when you look at the effort you put into it, as opposed to the fruit that comes out of it, it is quite a mystery as to how this works because clearly the virtue is growing at a far greater pace than the effort you are really putting forward. Like the farmer who goes to sleep at night and rises in the day, he does not put the effort forth because it is for the Lord to bring up the fruit. He allows it to rain and He allows the sun to shine on it, and all of the things grow. That is how it works in the spiritual life. The farmer had to do his part – he had to go out and till the ground, he had to sow the seed, he had to take care of things as he was able and as he needed to do – but the Lord took care of the rest. What happens for us is that if we want to grow in holiness, if we truly want to seek a life of virtue, not only does it require that we have the time for prayer set aside, but it also is going to require that the Lord do the rest. We have our part to do. We have to till the heart, we have to open it up and allow the seed to be planted there, but then the Lord takes care of the rest. We go to sleep, we rise, we see things happening and we know not how.
But Saint Paul, in the first reading, makes it pretty clear how it is going to happen, that is, through a contest of suffering. We all know that if we are going to live according to the ways of Jesus Christ that we are going to suffer. If we listen to what the early Christian people had to endure (remember, again, these were the priests who had converted that he is writing to in this letter), he says, At times you were publicly exposed to abuse and affliction; at other times you associated yourselves with those who were being so treated. You joined in the sufferings of those in prison. You joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property. Now just put yourself into that situation and ask, “What would happen if I had to do that today? What would happen if I got dragged out into the streets and was publicly exposed to shame and humiliation? What if they came and confiscated my property just because I was a Catholic? What if they wanted to put me to death for that reason?” Saint Paul said the early Christians joyfully accepted this. Would we? They could joyfully accept it because of their prayer life, because they were seeking true union with Christ.
So Saint Paul tells us, You need endurance to do the Will of God and to obtain what He promised. We are going to have the opportunity to do exactly this, and it is coming upon us rather soon. If we are not ready, we are going to do exactly what Saint Paul warns us of. In quoting the Old Testament, he says, My just one shall live by faith, and if he draws back I take no pleasure in him. Just look around at what is happening to person after person after person: they are drawing back. They do not want to live the faith. It is getting too difficult. There is too much suffering. The evil around us is growing exponentially day by day by day, and people are falling away because they do not endure, because they are unwilling to accept the suffering, because they have no prayer life and therefore they fall away because there is no depth.
This is something we are going to have to deal with, and each one of us needs to make sure we are doing everything we can. God will take care of the rest. The Lord is going to allow the suffering. He is going to allow the trials and the persecutions and the tribulations and the difficulties and whatever else it is going to require for us to become holy. Now the question is, do we want it? We want it as long as it is fun, as long as we can go to prayer and have all kinds of consolations and say, “Oh, it’s just so wonderful. I have this emotional experience when I go to prayer, and, oh, it feels so good!” That is not what prayer is all about. But when it is not all gushy and warm and fuzzy, well, then we do not want to go pray because it is not pleasant, because it hurts, because it is dry and dark and painful and difficult. The same is true with being Catholic these days. As long as you can go to church and strum a guitar and sing happy songs, hey, we can be entertained; it is fun. That is not being Catholic. That is not what the worship of God is all about. But when we are made to suffer, when our faith is tested, it is not going to be warm and fuzzy anymore. If we are not accustomed to doing our part in prayer and seeking the grace to persevere, we are not going to make it. So we need to make sure that we are doing what we can. God will take care of the rest, but the way God takes care of it is not only to provide the grace but to provide the suffering. And if we do not want the suffering, then we do not want Jesus Christ.
If we are truly going to live the Christian life then – thanks be to God! – we are going to have the opportunity to prove it because we have not had that opportunity in our lives and it has really been a long time for most Christian people. Those in Africa and those in some of the Asian countries have suffered for their faith; they have proven themselves. We have been able to be pretty wimpy Catholics, but the day is soon at hand when that will no longer be the case. And then we have a choice to make. Do we want to be social Catholics? Do we want to be warm, fuzzy Christians? Or do we want to be real Catholics who unite themselves with Jesus Christ and who are going to persevere to the end? The Lord is going to provide the grace, are we willing to accept it? Are we willing to dispose ourselves to receive it? He will take care of His part; we have to take care of ours. Our part is not that difficult. It is to pray, it is to open the heart, it is to allow the Lord to take care of what is planted there so that the kingdom of God through suffering will grow and produce great fruit.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.