Reading (1 Samuel 4:1-11) Gospel (St. Mark 1:40-45)
In the readings today, we see that there are two ways God can choose to purify things. We hear about this leper coming to the Lord, and the Lord simply reaching out and touching the man. Of course, if we recall, by Mosaic law that was something that would be forbidden and in fact would make the person who touched the leper unclean, but instead it worked the opposite way: The man’s leprosy left him, and both the man and Jesus remained clean at that point. So the Lord could simply touch somebody. He could will it, just as the leper said: If You will it, You can heal me. The Lord has the power to do that.
On the other hand, we see what happens among those who do not believe, among those who should but do not, that is, God allows them to go through some very excruciating things in order to be purified. Here we have the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord, the holiest and most revered of all the sacred objects of Israel, and God allowed His ark to be captured by the Philistines. This is something the Israelites could not have believed would have happened. Why would God allow this to be? It is because of the sins of the priests who were killed in battle, and it is because of the sins of the people. Not only did God allow the ark to be captured, but we also know that the temple that was built at Shiloh was destroyed. Once again, you say, “Why would God allow the temple to be destroyed?” Because of the horrendous things that happened within and because of the lack of faith of the people.
So too, it has happened within the Church. We can look at some of the places where in the ancient world the Church was the strongest; look today and you will find that there are hardly any Christians there at all. Most of the church buildings were destroyed centuries ago. So we see that the same thing happens, that God will allow – even now – for His Church to undergo severe purifications because of the sins of the people, and especially because of the sins of the priests. If we do not have the proper kind of reverence and the proper kind of faith, God is going to allow that we be purified in the way that is the most painful.
He could simply reach out and purify His Church; the problem is that most people in the Church do not want it. Not only do they not want it, they do not have the faith to be able to look at the Lord and say, “If You will to do so, You can heal me,” because most of them do not even acknowledge that there is any leprosy! It would be like a leper looking in the mirror and seeing the leprosy all over his body and saying, “I’m so happy that I’m not a leper; there’s no leprosy on me.” And you say, “Well, what are the spots all over your body?” They refuse to even acknowledge that there are any. That is what is happening in the Church today, and so what needs to happen is it needs to be purified. God could work it one of two ways, but history has demonstrated how it happens because of the lack of faith, because of the lack of reverence. Consequently, the purification of the Church – and remember, Saint Peter tells us that the purification begins in the house of God – is going to be pretty disastrous and exceedingly difficult. So we need to make sure that we keep our focus where it belongs.
Think about the Israelites. When the ark was captured and the temple was destroyed, what would happen to their faith in God? Would they continue to believe? Would they continue to practice their faith? Would they continue to be strong? Or would there be lots of doubts? How many of them would walk away from God? How many of them, for instance, in this case would say, “It appears that the gods of the Philistines are stronger than the Lord; therefore, maybe we should go and worship the gods of the Philistines”? Of course, they knew better than that, but people like to go where the wind is blowing. If we are going to be weather vanes instead of staying firm in the Lord, then whichever direction the wind is blowing is where we are going to go. That is what the Lord is really going to test us on, to see if we will be faithful, to see if we will continue to stand firm even in the midst of very, very painful and difficult things.
That is what we have to be prepared for, and the only way, again, is prayer. We cannot do this by ourselves, and we need to be clear about that. If we try to do it by ourselves, we are going to get crushed. The only possible way that we can remain firm is prayer. If you are not praying, you cannot stand. If we are praying, then we will be okay – as long as we keep our focus on Jesus. The best way to keep your focus on Jesus is to ask His mother to help you because she is the one who never took her eyes off of God, never took her heart off of God, even for one split second in her entire life. So that is the most perfect way. Go to Our Lady and beg her to keep you faithful to her Son, and ask her, like the apostles, to teach you how to pray, to teach you how to remain faithful to her Son, and, like her, to do His Will in all things.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.