Thursday September 15, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Our Lady of Sorrows
Reading (Hebrews 5:7-9) Gospel (St. Luke 2:33-35)
In the first reading today from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews, there is a line that is quite interesting. It says: Son though He was, He learned obedience from what He suffered; and when He became perfect, He became the source of eternal life to all who serve Him. If we think about what that says, first of all, how can we say that Jesus through suffering learned obedience? He is God; He is perfectly obedient. Then it talks about “when He was made perfect.” He is God; He is perfect. And He cannot be made any more perfect than He already was because God is perfect. Period. If He became more perfect, it would imply that He was not God because God cannot change. So how could He become perfect?
Well, if we think about exactly what this means and put it into the context of today’s feast, it makes perfect sense because the Mystical Body of Christ and the fullness of the person of Christ, which is both the historical, physical person of Christ and the Mystical Christ (of which we are members), are one. We have one and the same Father; we have one and the same Mother; we are all members of Jesus Christ. He is God; He is perfect. We are not. And so the point is that the only way we will become perfect is through suffering. The only way we will learn obedience is through suffering.
Now this gets right at the heart of the Protestant heresy that we are dealing with today, and that is that God does not want us to suffer. “Jesus did it all, therefore, you don’t need to.” It is that gospel of health and wealth that I rip on rather frequently because it is nowhere in Scripture. It is nowhere in Christianity until just fairly recently when all of a sudden these people decided about 150 years ago that they were not going to have to suffer. No Christian believed that for over 1800 years, but now it has become one of the central doctrines for many who are not Catholic.
We see that it [suffering] is something that is required. Think about the feast we celebrate today. Our Lord loved His mother more than anyone. She loved Him more than all of us and all the saints and angels combined, so she loved Him more than anyone. If there were anyone whom Our Lord would spare from suffering, it would be His mother. All of us can look at it and say, “Well, we deserve it after all, look at our sins.” She never sinned, and so there was nothing in her that needed to be perfected. Yet there she was united with Him in His suffering right from the beginning of His life, as we heard in the Gospel reading the prophecy that a sword will pierce your heart. The Greek word there for “sword” is a sword of sorrow, not a physical sword but a spiritual one. A sword of sorrow would pierce her Immaculate Heart. Now if the Lord was going to do all the suffering for us so that we did not need to, the one person He would have spared is His mother above all of us. Yet she, being the preeminent member of the Mystical Body of Christ and being our mother, is the one who shows us how to live the fullness of the Christian life.
The fullness of that Christian life implies being at the foot of the Cross, being united with Jesus in His suffering, offering sacrifices to God the Father. And because the Mystical Christ is crying out to God, just as Saint Paul says of Our Lord that He offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the One who was able to save Him from death and He was heard because of His reverence, so too in the Mystical Christ. The sacrifice that we offer everyday at Mass is a perfect sacrifice. Therefore, the prayers are heard and answered by God because the primary priest is Jesus, the victim is Jesus. The prayer is the perfect prayer of Our Lord, so we know that the prayers are heard. The prayers are not to spare us from suffering and death, but rather the prayers are to free us from suffering and death. That does not mean to keep us from having to suffer and die, but rather it means to bring us through the suffering and death to the glory of the Resurrection. Jesus was freed from death, but He had to enter into it before He could rise and be freed from it.
So it will be with us. We will not be spared the suffering, as we all know from our own lives. We will not be spared the share in the death of Christ, but we will be freed from it if we unite ourselves with it. In fact, the saints tell us that when we have such a profound love for Our Lord that the suffering we endure becomes the glory. It becomes the greatest joy in our lives. The very thing that most of us spend so much time and effort trying to avoid is what the saints would run to embrace. So we really see how little we love Our Lord as we do everything in our power to make sure we do not have to suffer.
If we want to truly love Our Lord and if we want to follow the example of our Blessed Lady, we have to remember that Jesus will do with us exactly what He did with His blessed mother. Before the public ministry began, He asked her permission. He would not begin the work for which He came into this world until His mother said “yes.” And He will not do all kinds of work in our souls until we say “yes.” He will not force us to follow Him to the Cross; that has to be our choice. So if we want to be perfect, if we want to grow in holiness, if we want to learn obedience, there is ultimately only one way: It is to be united with Our Lord and to follow the example of our Blessed Lady. Again, look in the Gospels and every single time you hear Our Lady mentioned she is where Jesus is. Therefore, that is the example we have to follow. She was right where He was, right up to the Cross; right up to the Resurrection, there she was. If we want to share in His glory then we need to follow Him. We need to walk with Him through the struggles of this life of Calvary to the Cross to be united with Him in His crucifixion so that we will be right there at the moment of the Resurrection, and with Him and with our Blessed Lady we will be able to share not only the glory of the Cross but the ultimate glory of the Resurrection.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.