Thursday March 22, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Third Week in Lent
Reading (Jeremiah 7:23-28) Gospel (St. Luke 11:14-23)
In the first reading today, we hear the passage that comes shortly after the call of the prophet Jeremiah. Our Lord says to Jeremiah that He is sending him out to preach ... "but the people are not going to listen to you." What a wonderful way to go: "Iím calling you to do this work and it is going to be a failure. You are going to know this right from the start, but you have to do it anyway." That is a difficult task when you really stop to think about what Jeremiah had to do and the way the people rejected him, but God told him this would happen. When we think about it within ourselves, that certainly would not make it any easier. To know that God said the people wouldnít listen to you, but go out and preach it anyway. Think of what that would imply. You would be rejected, the people would refuse to hear the Word of God. On one hand, Jeremiah would recognize the incredible privilege God has given to him, to be able to preach His Word. On the other hand, the heartbreaking, devastating pain of knowing that Godís own people have rejected the very Word of God. But that is what God said, "I commanded them to do this, but they chose to walk in the hardness of their evil hearts, rather than listen to My Word."
Then He goes on at the end to say, "My Word is not even heard among them." You see how He said that, he said, "This is a nation that does not listen to the voice of the Lord its God. Faithfulness has disappeared and the Word itself is banished from their speech." If you just walk around the streets of America today, ask yourself, "From how many mouths do you hear the Word of God?" It is banished. People do not speak the Word of God anymore. We hear it when we come to church. Maybe some people read it. But very few people speak it because it is not politically correct, because we know we will be ridiculed if we speak about the Lord and if we speak His Word. If we were to say to people, "This is what the Scripture says. This is what the Lord says," we would sound like a nut according to the ways of the world. So, many people do not even speak the Word of God. Itís not that they do not believe it, but they donít live it and they donít speak it. In that case, we can ask ourselves if we fall into that boat. Are we, in fact, turning our backs and not our faces to the Lord?
When we go to prayer and the Lord says something to us like: "I want you to do this for me. I want you to give this up. I want you to take on this penance. I want you to be willing to let go of some things," we do not want to hear that. We wind up spiritually turning around. And we turn our backs on the Lord so we donít have to listen to Him, because we donít want to do what He asks us to do. It is a hard thing for us, sometimes, to do what God wants. Put yourself in Jeremiahís place. Or assume we could remove the divinity from the Lord and say, "For a moment, let us suppose that Jesus didnít know exactly what would happen in the future. He didnít know that millions of people would believe in Him and be saved by His death. If He knew that He was to come into the world, preach the Word of God throughout Israel, be rejected and crucified, which one of us would want to do that?" When He called the prophet Isaiah and said, "Who will go?", if we knew what Jeremiah knew, if we knew what Our Lord knew about what His life was going to be, which one of us would stand up and say, "Here I am! Send me!"
But that is exactly what God is doing. He is asking each and every one of us to take His Word to heart, to live it, to speak it, and to know that we will be rejected. The Lord told us very clearly, "If they reject you, it is because they reject Me." It is not you they reject, it is Him they reject. But are we willing to do it? He is asking the exact same thing of us. Are we willing to bring up the Word of God in conversation? Are we willing to correct the faults of the people in our families and among our friends, or point out to some people at work, whom we have a relationship with, that maybe they shouldnít be using the kind of language they do, or maybe they shouldnít be doing some of the things they are doing? Are we willing to reach out and invite somebody to come to Mass with us? Think of the ridicule you would get if you said to somebody, "Why donít you come to Mass with me on Sunday? Iíll pick you up." How many of us are willing to do that?
You see, what people will do is twist it all around, just like they did to Jesus. "It is by Beelzebul that you cast out demons." When they see God working right in front of them, they refuse to believe it anyway. So, on the one hand we would look at it saying, "Well, if God wanted this, isnít this going to be a great thing? It will be a great success!" Which of the prophets was a worldly success? Every one of them died. From a worldly point of view, Jesus was a total failure. Only when we look at things spiritually do we see that Jesus is the greatest success in history and all the prophets were a success. The apostles were all a success, even though all of them except one were murdered for what they were teaching. So, we cannot look at it in a worldly way.
But when we think about what it might require, we fall right into the category of these people whom God spoke of: "They turned their backs, and not their faces to Me." Do we fall into that category? We have to be so careful. We can read these things and say, "Oh, those people! What was wrong with them?" They were human like us and they were no different. It is a lesson all of us need to learn. We need to bring this to prayer. We need to ask the Lord, honestly and earnestly, "Lord, am I doing this? Am I turning my heart away from You? Am I spiritually turning my back to you?" You will know real quickly, if you do not stay around to listen to the answer; you will know you have turned your back. If you turn your face to the Lord, you are going to want the answer, you are going to listen. But if you immediately begin entertaining distractions and thinking about something else as soon as you ask the question, then youíve already got your answer. You donít need God to tell you if you have turned your back, because you have just shown it yourself.
So try that. Go to prayer and ask the Lord, "What do You want of me?" That is what Saint Teresa did every single day when she received Holy Communion. With the Lord present within her, she would go back, kneel down, and say, "What do You want of me today?" Can we do that too? Can we ask that of the Lord, honestly? Do we really want to know the answer? That is the first question we have to ask ourselves. Do we really want to know what God wants of us? Then we need to go to prayer and ask; and we need to wait for the answer. We need to turn our faces, not our backs to the Lord. We need to be willing to do anything that He will ask of us. That is not easy because the pattern is there. If we are going to do the Lordís will, we have to take up our cross. Are we willing to do it? Are we willing to open our hearts and turn our faces to the Lord?
Note: Father Altier does not prepare his homilies in advance, but relies solely upon the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.