Tuesday March 15, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Fifth Week of Lent
Reading (Numbers 21:4-9) Gospel (St. John 8:21-30)
Our Lord in the Gospel reading says to the Pharisees, When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I AM. “I AM”, of course, is the Holy Name of God – Yahweh. So He is telling them, “It is only at that point that you are going to understand it.” And He says, Unless you come to believe that I AM, you will die in your sins. When we look at that, we realize that what He is telling us is that it is only in such an act as the Crucifixion that any of us are truly going to believe in Who He is. His apostles, on one level, believed. Saint Peter, for instance, inspired by God, professed Who Jesus was, but then fell away from some of that in his human weakness. Jesus had told His disciples Who He was, and they still did not understand. It was not until He proved His love completely that we would be able to see and to believe.
It is in that perfect act of love on the Cross that our sins are forgiven, and unless we are willing to look at that Cross and recognize Who He is we have no means of forgiveness. This, again, does not imply just a “head” knowledge. We know all of these things, but just think about how many Catholics have been educated in the Faith over the centuries and how many have fallen away. They knew what the truth was, but they did not believe it. So, first of all, how grateful we have to be that God has given us the ability to accept the truth. Now it is a matter of really letting it sink in, of making sure that what we know in our heads we are also living in our lives, so that it really is in our hearts, so that it is not just to say “I believe” with our minds but to say “I believe” with our whole being.
We cannot be like the Israelites out in the desert who grumble and complain against God and then come along and say, “Okay, we blew it. Now do something to take this away.” It is selfish. It was a true realization that they had sinned against God and Moses. But it was not because they were sorry they had sinned against God and Moses that they wanted to repent; it was because the snakes were biting them and they were dying. It was purely selfish. If we are not focused solely on Christ in the depth of our being, then what is going to happen is that as things continue to get worse we are going to be just like the Israelites. We are going to grumble and we are going to complain against God. The problem is that at that point there is not going to be any way out.
The only way out is the Cross, and unless we are on it we do not have life. We have to be willing to unite ourselves with Christ. If we are not willing to unite ourselves with Christ, then we are going to walk away from Him, because when things get really, really difficult we are going to be like the people who looked at Our Lord with the Eucharist and said, “This is hard to listen to, who can endure it?” When we see what is going around us, we are going to say the same thing: Who can endure it? Only if we are looking at the Cross and only if we are willing to be on the Cross with Jesus are we going to be willing to endure it. Otherwise, we are going to be saying things like, “We’re disgusted!” Not so much with the wretched food like the Israelites said about the manna in the desert, but with the circumstances of our lives, with the things going on. We are going to doubt, we are going to complain, we are going to whine, we are going to get selfish, and we are going to walk away from the Lord if that is the way it is going to work.
This is why we need to be deep in prayer. Not saying prayers, but taking the time to be silent in our heart and to go into the depths of our being and to unite ourself with Jesus Christ. That is the only means by which we are going to remain faithful. It is in that that Jesus showed the depth of His love, and it is in that that we will show the depth of our love for Him. This is an incredible privilege that God is giving to us. Now the question is: Do we want it? The privilege that the Israelite people had is what the prophets would call the “honeymoon period” of going out into the desert, and they grumbled and complained against God because they did not like it. Unless we are praying and unless we are united with Jesus in His Passion and on His Cross, we too are going to grumble and complain. Unless we truly believe (not meaning in our heads, but by the way that we live, in the depths of our being, in our prayer) in Who Jesus Christ is – that He is the great I AM – we will die in our sins, because unless we really, truly live it, we are not going to turn to Him, we are not going to repent. It is only when He is lifted up that we will come to believe, and we will only understand when we are lifted up with Him, when we are united with Him on His Cross, the greatest privilege that a Christian person can be granted – but not a pleasant one.
And so the question each one of us has to ask is: Are we willing to do it? Are we willing to unite ourselves with Christ on the Cross? Are we willing to say “yes” to Him, that we believe all the way to the end? He said “yes” to the end and He will ask the same of us. Otherwise, if we are not willing we will grumble and complain against God, and unless we put into practice what we profess we will die in our sins.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.