Tuesday February 1, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Fourth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Hebrews 12:1-4) Gospel (St. Mark 5:21-43)
In the first reading today, we hear the beginning of the twelfth chapter of Saint Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews. It is a reading that maybe we should cut out and hang on our refrigerators and keep with us as a constant reminder to us of the situation as it is. We are reminded, first of all, that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, all the saints, all the martyrs, all of those who have lived their faith and have not backed off when it came to giving witness to the Lord. Therefore Saint Paul says, Let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race. This is precisely what our call is, to get rid of sin in our lives, to be holy, to overcome everything that is going to lead us away from Christ.
And then he tells us we must keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, Who is the leader and the perfecter of our faith. We have to make sure we are keeping our focus on the goal of where we are going; otherwise, in the hustle and bustle of everything that goes on, we will be getting knocked around and turned and twisted and we are going to lose the direction that we are heading. But if we keep our eyes fixed on the Lord, it does not matter how many times we get knocked around, we are still going to have our eyes fixed in the right direction and we are still going to keep moving forward.
Then he tells us what is the most important for us because he knew, of course, from his own life how much he had suffered for the Lord, and he knew how much the people who were going to follow Christ were going to suffer for the Lord. So he tells us about Our Lord’s attitude: For the sake of the joy that lay before Him, Jesus accepted the Cross, heedless of its shame. It did not matter to the Lord what He had to endure because the joy that He was looking forward to was that all of us would be united with Him in heaven. That is what He wanted. It was not a matter that He could go to heaven, because He is God and even in His humanity He was in the Beatific Vision already. And so it is not a question that there was something He was going to gain, but the joy that was before Him was the joy that comes when you love. He loved us so much that He was willing to endure the Cross for us so that our sins could be forgiven, so that we would be able to go to heaven, so that we could have eternal life.
Then Saint Paul goes on to remind us of the opposition that Our Lord faced, and therefore tells us that He did this in order that we might not grow weary and lose heart. Again, looking at the Cross gives us the courage to persevere in the race, to continue to struggle forward. In case we get despondent and think, “I’ve had enough!” – Saint Paul kind of anticipates it – he said, In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood. So when have you had enough? When you are put to death for your faith. Then you do not have to worry about struggling in the race any longer; and until they put you to death, you have to keep going and there is no pulling back.
Sometimes we try to be like the woman in the Gospel reading today that sneaks up behind Jesus and we want to be a follower of Jesus in secret. He did not allow it. In front of the entire crowd of people, the woman had to confess the situation; and in front of the whole world, we have to confess our faith. If we are going to be true Catholics, it is not something that can be hidden under a bushel basket or under a bed. There is no hiding the reality of who we are. If we are members of Jesus Christ, we have to live the life of Christ, and that is not something that we can hide away. It is something that must be lived in our day-to-day lives, and it is to struggle against sin, against anything that leads us away from Christ, so that we continue to move towards Him, so that we seek union with Him. That is what we have to be about. We have to be so convinced of this faith and we have to be so in love with Him, that we, like Him, will be willing to do whatever it requires for the sake of the joy that lay before us, that is, for the sake of union with Christ, for heaven itself.
What are we willing to endure? When we look at it that way, all of us objectively would say, “I’ll do whatever it takes,” but we all know that in our day-to-day life, the smallest little pebble, the little prick on our finger, and, oh, we start to whine and complain and back away and think, “I‘ve had enough. I don’t want to do this anymore.” No, we need to persevere. We need to keep going forward regardless of what obstacles are put in the way. And we need to realize that it is precisely those obstacles that strengthen our faith, that are going to help us to grow, that prove our love and are going to make us saints. When we have to deal with these problems and the difficulties and the ridicule and all the things, then we just need to keep on reminding ourselves, For the sake of the joy that lay before Him He endured the Cross, heedless of its shame. What are we willing to endure for Jesus? What shame are we willing to endure? What kind of ridicule would we be willing to endure for Him? That is really what it comes down to.
It is not about us; it is about our love for Him. For the sake of the joy of union with Jesus Christ forever in heaven, we need to embrace whatever comes our way, whatever sufferings, whatever rejection, whatever difficulty, heedless of its shame, for the sake of the joy that will be ours forever.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.