March 22, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Tuesday of Holy Week
Reading (Isaiah 49:1-6) Gospel (St. John 13:21-33, 36-38)
When we hear the words in the first reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, that he thought he had toiled in vain and for nothing spent his strength, we look at the life of Our Lord and if you look merely on the natural level one might be tempted to think exactly that. Here comes this Man who becomes an itinerant preacher, He goes around from town to town, makes a handful of disciples, and then is put to death. It looks like a total waste of a life. Yet, of course, for those with eyes of faith we recognize it is anything but that, which is precisely why it says: My recompense is with the Lord; my reward is with my God. It is the Lord Himself Who is going to bring fruit out of what appears to be useless toil.
That is a lesson that all of us need to learn because we all know, as we look at the lives of the saints, that the ones which oftentimes seem to be the most fruitless lives, if you will, (on the natural level) – people who are merely suffering, people who are not out doing lots of things – they are the ones who actually are the greatest saints. If we look at them on the natural level, we say, “What a waste.” When we look at them on the spiritual level, we would say, “What a saint.” They have been chosen by God to unite their prayers and sufferings with Him, and what they are doing for the world is far greater than what most of the people who are out running around doing all kinds of things are able to do for the world. The problem is that most people do not recognize it. We need to be able to see it. Otherwise, we, with eyes of faith, are going to be in the darkness because if we do not recognize the importance of what people who pray and suffer do then there is no hope.
The Lord offers to every one of us an opportunity to suffer with Him. Of course, like Peter, we will very quickly say, “Lord, I’m willing to die with You!” And the Lord will look at us and say, “You are, are you?” He said to Peter: This very night you will deny Me three times before the cock crows. Well, it probably would not take us that long to deny Him three times because of our weakness. What happens to us when we are made to suffer? Many of us probably start complaining and whining and moaning and groaning as soon as it begins. We kick and scream and we wonder why God is punishing us and why He hates us and why He is doing this to us. Rather than praying and offering it up, we want it gone. We do not recognize the value of the suffering at all. We do not recognize it in our own lives, and most of us do not recognize it in the lives of anyone else. So we look at people who are victim souls and we think, “What a waste.” It is anything but a waste. What is a waste is that we do not recognize the value of what God is doing in these souls that are suffering.
We need to look at our own selves and we need to see our willingness, and, thanks be to God, the willingness is there. We want to be with Jesus, we want to be able to go with Him, we want to be with Him where He is; but then when it comes time for us to walk the path that is going to bring us to where He is, that is where most of us falter. So we need to pray and we need to ask God for the grace to be able to carry the Cross, to be able to suffer with Him, to be able to be faithful to Him in the midst of the difficulties of life and the trials that come our way so that we can pray through it, so that we can unite it with His suffering because if we are united with Jesus then we are where He is. But if we recoil and we think that this is a waste, then we walk away from Him; we deny Him.
As we look at what happened to Judas, we see that he denied Jesus because he refused to believe in the Eucharist and that at the moment he received the morsel from Our Lord’s hand, rather than Jesus entering into him, Satan did, and he rejected the Lord. We have, on the other hand, the faith to recognize Our Lord, Who is in the Blessed Sacrament, and when we receive Him, we receive all the grace necessary to do what we need to do – and that is to unite ourselves with Him. He is uniting Himself with us. He is giving us everything that we need. Now it is our turn. It is not enough to say with Peter, “I want to be with You,” we have to live it. After Peter had denied the Lord and turned around, then he remained faithful right to the end, to the point of being crucified. We need to look at our own hearts. We like to think that we have the strength, but unfortunately we like to think that we can do it by ourselves. We cannot. We only have the strength that comes from the Lord, Who is present in the Blessed Sacrament. With His strength, we can do whatever is necessary as long as we look to Him. If we try to do it ourselves, we are going to deny Him; we will betray Him.
So if we truly believe that He is there in the Eucharist, we need not only to rely on His strength that comes from receiving Him, but we need to look to Him, we need to pray to Him, we need to truly live the faith that we profess that He is there, and we need to come to Him in the Eucharist so that His strength will be given to us, so that we will be able to be where He is, so that we will not deny Him and betray Him when the suffering comes, so that we will be able to do whatever it is that God wants for us to do.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.