Tuesday July 10, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Genesis 32:23-33) Gospel (St. Matthew 9:32-38)
In the first reading today, we have that rather strange reading about Jacob wrestling throughout the night with the angel. In the morning, the angel strikes him at the sciatic nerve so that he limps along. At that point, we see the exchange of Jacob asking the angel for the blessing and the angel changing Jacob's name to Israel. We look at this and wonder what this is all about.
There are lots of practical questions you can ask. For instance, if he had moved his whole family and everything he owned across the river, why did he go back to the other side where he was going to be alone? Why did he wrestle all night long? Why did it stop at daybreak? Why? Why? Why? We can ask all the questions, but it does not matter. What we do need to see is what it means for us.
Unfortunately, we like to wrestle with God too. And we will never win. What happens is that when we wrestle with God, eventually He is going to have to humble us if we are going to be able to grow in the spiritual life. Like Jacob, then we will limp along because we did not do what God wanted us to do in the first place.
It is a little different than Jacob's situation, but we can apply this to the spiritual life and see what we do ourselves. God asks us to make certain changes in our lives - He asks us to pray and He asks us to go deep into our own selves - and we do not like it. We fight Him. We wrestle all night long and, unfortunately, it is not just one night; it is day after day, month after month, year after year. Finally, God has to do something to be able to break us down because otherwise, most often, we do not cooperate with Him. We want to but we are afraid to. So what happens is that He has to humiliate us. He has to humble us. He has to break us down. It is similar to striking Jacob at the hip socket. He has to strike us right at the heart.
But we need to ask Him. That is the difference. God is never going to do anything that will violate us. What we need to do is really desire to get inside, be willing to look at what is there, and be willing to be healed. We need to ask Him to do that because we cannot do it ourselves, but that usually means that something else has to happen to open up the heart. Look at the situation with Jacob again: If he fought with the angel all night long but the angel was unable to overcome him, then the angel had to do something to weaken Jacob in order to be able to overcome him.
The same thing has to happen to us. It is not a bad thing, in fact, it is a very good thing. But it does not look good on the surface. If we look at what happened to Jacob, we would say, "Well, how can that possibly be good? After showing God all night long that he was strong enough to wrestle with Him, now he limps." Now, you have to ask yourself, "For ourselves, would it be a good thing to prove to God that we can wrestle with Him, day after day, month after month, year after year, and never let God win?" I would say that is not a good thing.
So, we need to ask Him to do whatever it will take to be able to get through, whatever it will require to open the heart and make us vulnerable because, otherwise, we are just like the people Our Lord is talking about. After wrestling with God, we are like sheep lying exhausted, like sheep without a shepherd. We know Who our Shepherd is, and we do not need to be lying there exhausted. We need to be following Him and we need to do what He wants us to do. So we need to ask Him. The difference, in this case, is that it is our free will. We have the choice of whether or not we want to be the sheep of His flock. We need to ask Him to be the shepherd. He is already, but it is a question of whether we are willing to follow Him and He allows us to make that choice. Part of that choice is to say, "Do whatever it will take to keep me in the fold, so that I do not wander off, so that I do not do it my own way, so that I do not try to wander from the Shepherd. Do whatever it is going to require. Strike me at the heart, Lord, so that it will be open, so that it will be wounded in such a way that I will not resist You any longer." That is what we need to pray for.
When we see that story in the first reading and apply it to ourselves, we see that we need to be alone with God. After wrestling, and thinking ourselves to be somehow impressive because we were able to wrestle with God all night long and not be overcome, we need to recognize the truth. We need to ask Him to do whatever it takes: "Wound me, as You were wounded, in the heart. Open the heart, Lord. Pierce the heart and do whatever it requires to make me obedient to You."
Note: Father Altier does not write 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.