April 24, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Fifth Sunday of Easter
Reading I (Acts 6:1-7) Reading II (1 Peter 2:4-9)
Gospel (St. John 14:1-12)
In the second reading today, Saint Peter tells us that we are to be built up into a spiritual household, a spiritual edifice that is pleasing to God, and that in this spiritual edifice we are to exercise our priesthood by offering spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Now we ask ourselves, “Just exactly what does this mean?” Well, first of all, if we are to be built up into a spiritual edifice, he is talking about the exact same thing Saint Paul talks about when he reminds us that each one of us is a temple of the Holy Spirit. We are to be living stones in the temple of God. But those living stones are not merely like the stones of a building that make a nice façade but otherwise do not do anything, because Saint Peter tells us that we are to exercise our priesthood. We are, as he says at the end of the reading, a royal priesthood, a people God has chosen for Himself.
Now the task of a priest is twofold: one, first and foremost, is to offer sacrifice; second is the office of mediation. The priest is to pray and he is to offer sacrifice. Those are his primary tasks. It is to stand between God and the people, to offer gifts and sacrifices acceptable to God from the people, and to offer to the people of God the gifts that God is giving to them. If you think about what happens at Mass, we take bread and wine, ordinary things, and we offer them to God; and He in turn offers us the gift of His very self. It is through the mediation of the priest that that takes place.
But each one of us, because of our baptism, is a priest – different, entirely different, a different kind of priesthood even than the sacramental (or ordained) priesthood. Nonetheless, each one of us is a priest, prophet, and a king. If each one of us is a priest, it means that we are all to be holy, we are all to be offering sacrifice, and we are all to be practicing the role of mediation. If we ask ourselves, “What exactly would that look like?” it is quite simple. The mediator role, for those of you who are parents, is to pray for your children. But you are to pray also for your spouse. We all need to pray for the circumstances in the world. There is no shortage of things to pray for. You might say, “I’m too busy. I don’t have time to pray.” Isn’t that the Catholic problem these days? We are all too busy to pray. There is a saint who once said, “If you’re too busy to pray, you’re too busy,” because God is to be the first priority in our lives. Love God and love your neighbor, Jesus said. Seek first the kingdom of God and His way of righteousness, and all these other things will be given to you besides. Prayer is to be the number one priority in all of our lives.
If we are going to pray, that leads us right into the sacrificial aspect of our baptismal priesthood. Number one, it means we are going to have to sacrifice some of our time. Prayer takes time, so that means there are other things that go to the wayside. And I can guarantee you that in any one of our lives there are many things that could go easily to the wayside, things that are a total waste of time but we like them and so therefore we do not want to give them up. We would rather do those things than to pray because it is more fun. Prayer is not about having fun; that is not the purpose of prayer. Prayer is to develop a relationship with God, to grow in love with Him, to be united with Him. That is exactly what happened when we were baptized, and it is what God desires for each one of us: to grow in holiness, which means to become more godlike, to be more perfectly united with Him. The only way that is going to happen is through prayer.
Now as you begin to pray what will happen is that God will begin to point out to you the things that can go. So there are lots of things, then, that we can start to sacrifice, things that are even good. But remember the way that the devil works. The devil is not stupid. He is the most intelligent creature God made. He knows that if you are trying to do what is right that he is not going to be able to tempt you too much to do something which is completely hideous, so he takes the lesser route. If he realizes that you are trying to do what is right, and he is not going to get you to fall too badly, then at least he wants to cut his losses and he wants to keep you from getting better. So what he will do is give you all kinds of good things to keep you from doing the best thing. The best thing is prayer. He gets us all running around, busy with all kinds of good things. And because they are good things, we say to ourselves, “Everything I’m doing is good, so it must be what God wants!” Not necessarily. If you are not spending a substantial amount of time in prayer every day, you are not doing what God wants. That is a guarantee. Therefore, if you are running around as most Americans like a chicken with its head cut off, you are not doing what God wants you to do. Some of the things, yes. All of them, no.
First and foremost, as far as the duties of our state in life are concerned, is prayer. And I’m not talking about cranking off a morning offering while you are shaving or brushing your teeth in the morning and racing out the door. I am not even talking about seeing if you can pray a Rosary while you are stuck in traffic. Those are good things to do, but that is not the kind of prayer I am talking about. I am talking about setting aside a chunk of time every day where you can go into your heart and be united with God. That is what we have to do, and that is what is going to lead us deeper into that union with God.
And what is it going to look like when we get there? What we are going to find when we get inside is that there is a beautiful exchange that is happening. Jesus told us in the Gospel reading today that He is going to prepare a place for us. We have Saint Peter, on the one hand, telling us that we have to build ourselves up into a spiritual edifice, into a temple for the Lord; and Jesus, on the other hand, is telling us that He is going to prepare a place for us. So we are to prepare a place for Him and He is preparing a place for us. If you look at the way it works, for all eternity (assuming that we go the right direction) we are going to be able to enter into the temple that Our Lord has built for us. In the meantime, as long as we are here, we are inviting Him to enter into the temple that we have made for Him. And so there is this wonderful exchange that goes on between the Lord and ourselves, that He now enters into us and we enter into Him. Our eternity will be union with Jesus Christ, and that eternity starts now.
Now it is not only with Jesus alone because Our Lord told us in the Gospel reading: Anyone who sees Me has seen the Father. Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me? You begin to understand that what goes on inside of you is even greater. Because of your baptism, you have become the dwelling place of God. The Most Holy Trinity – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; all three Persons of God – dwell in your soul 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, provided that you are in the state of grace. If we commit a mortal sin, God goes. When we get back into the state of grace, the Trinity returns. So we already are that dwelling place of God. But when you receive Holy Communion, you receive God. We always talk about how the Eucharist is Jesus, and it is. But Jesus is God, and the Three Persons of the Trinity equally share in the divinity. You cannot separate one from the other, so where One is, all Three are present. When you receive Holy Communion, it is the Body, the Blood, the Soul, the humanity of Jesus and the Divinity; but the Divinity is shared by all Three Persons, so when you receive Holy Communion you receive the Holy Trinity, all Three Persons of God united in One, along with the humanity of Christ. Not only is God present within you in His indwelling presence, but He is within you substantially and sacramentally for those moments that the Blessed Sacrament remains intact within you. So you see exactly what the Lord is doing. He is showing us what is going to happen in eternity in this exchange. Right now, He, in the fullness of His Person, enters into us. We are to be built up into a spiritual edifice to be able to receive the glory of God into our souls. Our soul literally becomes heaven, the dwelling place of God.
What do you think heaven is going to be like? Now look at your soul and ask if that is what heaven is like. If there is a massive dichotomy between your soul and heaven, then we understand the reason why we need to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God. Those spiritual sacrifices can be things like fasting and doing good works, accepting the sufferings and struggles and difficulties of our day-to-day lives, dealing with people who are a pain, and so on. But far more importantly is that we sacrifice all of the things that stand between us and God, that we sacrifice anything that is keeping our souls from being the dwelling place that we would want to offer to God. Jesus told us that He is going to prepare a place for us. What do you want that to be like? Do you want to live in a cardboard shack in eternity (spiritually speaking, that is)? The Lord in His mercy is not going to build that for you. He is going to build you a beautiful place, a mansion, a spiritual place that is going to hold your soul and eventually your body when it rises from the dead to be united with your soul. If He is going to do that for us, and we would want Him to prepare a beautiful place for us, what kind of place ought we to be preparing for Him?
This is what Saint Peter is getting at. All of us need to be people of prayer. Look at the first reading. The apostles recognized that there were important works to be done, and they started taking on the distribution of food to the widows. Then they realized, “You know what? We’ve gotten so busy doing this good work that what’s being neglected is prayer and the ministry of the Word.” Now they did not say, “We need to stop doing this entirely.” They said, “Find somebody else because that’s not our call.” But even look at what the deacons had to be: spiritual men. They needed to be men of prayer. For what? To give food to the widows. Why do you need to be so prayerful to do that? Because it is about service, it is about sacrifice, and there is no way we are going to be able to offer true, beautiful sacrifices to God unless we are people of prayer. The apostles would not even let people bring food to the widows unless they were people of prayer. How much more important then is it for us who are entrusted with the care of other souls, whether that is your spouse or your children or any other work that God has entrusted to you, that we pray. It is the only way – the only way. Too many Catholics think it is enough to go to Mass and say, “That’s good enough.” It is not. Too many Catholics think it is good enough to spend maybe a couple of minutes in prayer or just “saying” prayers. That is very good. I am not trying to suggest that we should not do that, but I am trying to say, “Go deeper.”
Get into your heart and build there a spiritual edifice. Make yourself into a beautiful temple for God, that you will be that living stone, that spiritual stone that is being built up so that in that place you will be able to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. And then the beautiful exchange, which will take place in us after this life, will already begin because we will build a dwelling place for God while He is preparing a dwelling place for us. We will be completely prepared for eternity because eternity has already begun in our hearts. And as we await the day that we will enter into God, we now have already the promise of what will be because God has entered into us. The more beautiful a place we prepare for Him through prayer and spiritual sacrifice, the more glorious will be the place that is prepared for us. So we now as this royal priesthood, as Saint Peter calls us, are called to exercise that priestly office: to pray and to offer sacrifice, to become that spiritual temple where God dwells and where spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God are offered and we are built up to become what we were created to be, the dwelling place of God, the glory of heaven on earth, while we prepare on earth for the glory of heaven in eternity.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.