Wednesday April 4, 2001 (Audio) Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Fifth Week in Lent
Reading (Daniel 3:14-20, 91-92, 95) Gospel (St. John 8:31-42)
When Jesus looks at these people and says to them, "If you are truly my disciples, you will know the truth; and the truth will set you free," they retort by saying, "Weíve never been slaves to anyone, we are children of Abraham." The fact of the matter is, as we heard in the first reading, they were slaves. They were slaves in Babylon, in the Babylonian Exile, when they were taken away from their own land. They also had been slaves to others. At the time of Jesus, of course, the Romans were pretty much in control of things in the whole area of Palestine. So, to suggest that they had never been slaves to anyone shows that, right from the start, they are not speaking the truth.
Yet, on the other hand, they are speaking the truth, at least if you look at Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, the three men that we heard about in the first reading. While they were in the Babylonian Exile in Babyon, they refused to bow down and worship the golden statue that Nebuchadnezzar had made. It was a statue of himself and it was supposed to be God. Everybody, whenever they heard the musical instruments, were supposed to bow down and worship the golden statue that he had set up. He found out that these three Jewish exiles, who he had actually made members of his court (he had taught them the language and they were to be made members of the royal court, along with Daniel), refused to bow down and worship the golden statue. Then we pick it up from there in the reading : When they refuse, he throws them into the white-hot furnace. We see that these men, even though they were in a situation where there was external slavery, still had the freedom of the children of God. They knew God and they would not worship anyone else. Even if it meant that it would cost them their lives, they didnít care. They believed firmly in God and trusted in God. When they were thrown into a white-hot furnace (which was so hot that it actually consumed the men who bound them up and threw them into the furnace), these three men and an angel who came to be with them were able to walk around in the fire. The little part we prayed today from the Responsorial Psalm (which isnít actually a psalm but comes from Daniel, chapter three) was part of the song these three men sang in the fire as they were walking in the midst of a white-hot furnace untouched. They sang this song praising God, "Praiseworthy and glorious above all forever."
So, we see the freedom that is there. No matter what the external circumstances are, the soul is always free. God never takes away our free will, and neither can anyone else. No matter what the circumstances, we can always be disciples of the Lord. We can make the choice for Jesus Christ. That truth, then, is what we will know because Jesus is the truth and the truth will set us free. It is a matter for us of being able to say, just as these three men did, "It doesnít matter what happens in society. It doesnít matter what happens even within the Church. If there are corrupt priests, bishops, or anybody else; whatever problems take place; whatever scandalous things might happen; no matter what anybody tries to do; that does not change the fact that the truth is objective. The truth is there for everyone. The fact that some, perhaps even many, do not follow it, does not change the fact that we are free to choose and to live the truth.
The truth is Jesus Christ. We always need to remember that. The truth that we believe is not just a body of propositions that the Church puts out for us; the truth is a person. Our faith is in a person: the person of Jesus Christ. It is He and He alone, through His death and resurrection, that sets us free from the slavery to sin. That is the only slavery because that is the one that we freely choose. No matter what anybody else does to us externally, our soul remains free. But if we choose sin, we are choosing slavery for ourselves. The only way to have freedom from that is: Jesus Christ. That is the point He is trying to make for us today. If we follow Him, then we will know Him. And when we come to know Him, we know the truth. He alone, the Truth, will set us free.
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.